Back in college (ah, college), some buddies and I road-tripped down to New Orleans (thrice) to experience New Year’s Eve and/or Spring Break. Good times had by all (thankfully this all happened in the pre-camera phone era). Whilst there, I enjoyed local beignets, chicory coffee, and discovered Cajun Power Sauce. Yum. I bought 4 extra bottles for the return, one to keep, the rest as gifts. By the third visit, I bought a dozen bottles, since everyone loved it and it wasn’t findable in the Pittsburgh vicinity.
Today, it’s not a big deal. You can buy it online, from a variety of vendors. When I was a kid living in Montreal, the winter was a special time, as everybody knew someone returning from a Florida vacation, which meant a bag of fresh oranges/grapefruits. Today, every supermarket everywhere has fresh produce, available pretty much year-round, coming in from around the world. Today, I can order a fresh Maine lobster, have it arrive tomorrow in San Francisco packed in ice. And it’s not just food. With globalization, just about everything is a Google or Amazon search plus FedEx delivery away.
I was thinking about a few of my “favorite” things, and while none are mittens, most are the things I own that are more scarce than the rest. The outdoor furniture my wife and I bought on our trip to Vietnam. The shirts I had custom made in South Korea. The t-shirts I order from CafePress are also fairly special to me, but no more so than the fridge magnets I pick up for my kids in every airport I visit. All are hard(er) to find. But the stuff I really like? The highly limited run shirts at Threadless – until I bump into someone with the same shirt on. Sad face. My favorite t-shirt is one I bought from a UK-based semi-custom t-shirt store (pictured to your right – feeling good Billie Ray!).
I think there’s some kind of weird link between scarcity (or faux scarcity) and hipsters, who know about bizarre Japanese imports, coffee shops with no signs, and DJs who only play hidden clubs at 3am. Think about the cache of being the first to discover some amazing artist, or having an iPhone case nobody’s seen before, or remembering that you played DrawSomething back when it was just a Facebook app. Or knowing about Double Double Animal Style, back when it was actually a secret. Or having seen the original Hunger Games, when it was called Battle Royale. Etc etc etc
At home we can make genuine chicory coffee imported from New Orleans. We can find the recipe online for making Caffe Du Monde beignets. I just ordered a bottle of Cajun Power sauce (and you should too). But the truth is, I miss scarcity. I miss things being hard to find. I actually miss the feeling of missing out on being able to get something. I also believe scarcity is power. Scarcity is the new hip. Having “the only one” or limited production runs, etc matters. Think about the desire for sites and services that launch “in beta”. Think about the power of “only XX made – ever.” I predict hyperpersonalization will be augmented with hyperlimited productions, and that will cross the lines between physical and digital goods. And that’s something I can get excited about.
Abundance is a really great thing, except maybe when there’s just too darn much of it.