Vaporized - Part Seven

The Ice Cube or Vapour Box

The relationship between consumer and supplier features unending contradictions. While the consumer desires products that they control, ones that cost nothing to buy, take up no space, are infinately speedy, are of infinite high quality, are infinitely easy to use, and free to operate, suppliers require that one or more of these desires go unsatisfied in order to survive. The relationship is an unending battle to see how long any supplier will retain control over the relationship, and the customer will always ultimately, eventually win.

The supplier’s game is to delay as long as possible that transition from their control to another supplier’s or the consumer’s control. Suppliers can do this by appearing to side with the consumer, by changing some constraint that currently prevents the consumer from controlling their own relationship with the product while retaining others. By lowering price, for instance, a supplier can help to satisfy the consumer’s desire for free goods and undermine another supplier’s ability to satisfy this same need. If the supplier can reduce a presently high cost with one that conveniently fades into the background, he can make the cost seem to disappear. Or, by increasing the prestige of the product, a supplier can, for some consumers, evaporate the remaining negative externalities of the product.

For the purposes of this description, negative externalities are any which limit the customer’s ability to take total control over satisfying their own need. So, any cost, improper size, slow speed, low quality, difficulty to use, and cost to operate is, at root, a negative externality for a product. It’s important to note that the consumer might not outwardly complain about the present terms of exchange. They might treasure their relationship with their auto mechanic, but if they could have a car which didn’t require a mechanic or some means of transportation that eclipsed their desire for a car, they would walk away from that treasured relationship without once looking back, as if freed from an indentured servitude.

Suppliers are similarly heartless in their commercial relationships. They dangle increased ease of use for their new release of their operating system, failing to mention all of the backward compatibility lost with installation, dramatically increasing the cost to operate the innovation. They also might at any time target a new market segment, dropping loyal and satisfied customers without their permission or request. Suppliers have long histories of lobbying legislatures to require their product or service as a matter of law, or to artificially inflate their prices above market demands. They are not their customer’s unending friends.

Vapour Points are achieved whenever the consumer wins a round in this eternal game. The previous supplier is vapourized unless he can find some other advantage over the consumer or some other industry with adequate advantage over the consumer to regain his temporary superiority in the game. The superiority is always temporary for the supplier, since the consumer’s search never ends for infinitely smaller negative externalities. The wide availability of inexpensive home ice-making equipment didn’t liberate the consumer from suppliers, it transferred their indenture to another industry, one which provided a more satisfying mix of controllables. The widely-reported vapourization of the Buggy Whip industry came closer to satisfying the consumer’s ultimate objective, since it made moot the day-to-day need for such a thing as a buggy whip. Doing away with a need is the highest form of vapourization, since the absence of need costs nothing to provide, takes up no space, occurs instantly and constantly, renders quality moot, requires no skill, and incurs no operating costs.

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