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The Pet Rock Theory
Thursday March 9, 2000
by Duane

Every once in a while I have a realization, or, more accurately, a stray thought gone terribly, terribly wrong. Of those occurences, I've chosen a few that may actually hold some merit (for me, at least). I've organized these into a few of my personal "theories."

The first of these was my Pet Rock theory. (Stay with me for a bit on this one...) In 1975 Gary Dahl thought to himself, "Pet... rock... Pet Rock!" He then proceeded to place a rock into a box with "air holes" and sell it. Instead of being put into an asylum, this guy became rich selling chunks of petrified dirt in a nice box to the general public.

Why did people buy these things?! Was there some kind of special prize in the boxes or maybe a contest to win some cash? Nope. They just bought them because everyone else had one. Something deep inside the human mind tells us that if somebody buys something (or more accurately, if many people buy something) that we don't have there must be a good reason to buy it. We then happily dig into our hard earned monetary reserves and fork over the cabbage for the new product X.

This theory can be applied to many of the most popular consumer products on the market today. For illustrative purchases we will consider the following two cultural icons: Microsoft ®tm Windows ®tm and the omnipresent urban assault vehicle, better known as the Sport Utility Vehicle (aka Sport Ute, SUV).

Neither of these products popularity is based on their features nor their value. It simply comes down to an "I'll use it because the Joneses use it!" Well, here's a news flash:

The Joneses use it because the Smiths use it. The Smiths use it because the Johnsons use it. So on and so forth.

Brilliant, eh? Yup, we're a bunch of upright-standing, bipedal lemmings lining up to run off the consumer marketplace cliff.

There are plenty of better alternatives. SUVs get horrible gas mileage, handle poorly under the most modest of driving conditions, takes up unnecessary space, and are a safety threat to those that wish to be remotely sensible. Windows is bloated, performs poorly under many simple computing tasks, takes up unneccesary ram and is a security threat to every administrator using it! (Conclusion: Windows is the SUV of the software market.)

I guess in the end, it's not what you're selling but how you sell it. SUVs are backed by the best promotions, flashy auto show presentations, and powerful commercial imagery. The same goes for Windows.

Eventually, we as a race will come back down to earth and realize that individual thought is more powerful than mass media campaigns and majority rule. It may take five-dollar-per-gallon gas and the breakup of Microsoft to happen, but it will. Nothing can be supported forever by empty features and hype. Except for the next big fad.
Further information and related links:

SUV Poseur Page
MicroSuck
The Pet Rock Page
Applied Modern Marketing
SUV Safety Info
Windows 2000 Annoyances

-Duane