The day of the leisure class

Posted: Oct 29, 2003 12:00 AM
Everybody sell! was the slogan of William I. Nichols years ago when he headed up This Week, the largest-selling Sunday supplement of the day. The genial and learned Harvard-trained publisher had been greatly impressed on learning that 66 percent of the gross national product is generated by sales.

If nobody bought, nobody would produce except for his own account, and there are only so many potatoes a consumer can eat, or skirts she can wear. So he must entice others, who themselves simultaneously entice other consumers. It is for this reason -- sales -- that inventive merchants devise not only skirts and potatoes, but all those things the socialists, notably Thorstein Veblen 100 years ago, condemn as merchandise that can only be classified as whetting the appetite for conspicuous consumption.

But Mr. Veblen had not been shown the wares of Brookstone Inc., whose catalog arrives in plenty of time to plan for Christmas giving. Consider, for instance -- before you go off on one of those socialistic complaints about conspicuous consumption -- the problem of grilling a steak. What are you expected to do while waiting for it to finish cooking? Just stand there? But that is an inefficient allocation of energy. Along comes the Grill Alert! It is a "talking, remote thermometer (that) lets you spend less time at the grill or oven, and more time enjoying the holidays."

The catalog explains how to do this: "(1) Insert the transmitter probe into entree. (2) Attach wireless receiver to your belt. (3) Relax while Grill Alert monitors the cooking."

Do you need to keep your eyes trained on the receiver to tell you how things are going with the steak? Not on your life! "A voice will prompt you announcing when the food is cooked to your liking." If he had had one of these, Veblen could have saved the time to write another book about the leisure class.

Of course, if you are cooking for more than just a few people, you will want to guard against the problem of misidentifying which is the seat of a particular guest. Things get so confused at parties, don't they? Well, now you can just look for the wine glass of, say, the guest who wants her steak medium-well. "Keeping track of your beverage has never been so simple or so much fun. Just attach this lighted charm to easily recognize your glass among all the others. The charms come in red, blue, white, yellow, purple and green, and operate with the press of a button. Magnetic clasp attaches charm securely to the stem of the glass. Expand the possibilities by using multiple sets at your social events, allowing some charms to flash, while others remain lighted." The industrial revolution never sleeps.

Those who scoff at the inventive turn of American merchandise would do well to pause over the revolutionary Ambient Orb. "How's the market doing? Ambient Orb changes color in response to stock market fluctuations, giving you an at-a-glance picture of your financial position."

And you need not be especially alert to track the economy. Alan Greenspan, presiding over the Federal Reserve, need only make sure that his color vision is relatively keen. "Using wireless technology, Ambient Orb glows different colors to reflect changes in the stock market. Preset to track the Dow, Ambient Orb can be set up to track the S&P 500, American Stock Exchange, Nasdaq Composite, Nasdaq 100 and Russell 2000. With a premium account, it can be customized for a single stock or your individual portfolio."

The Ambient Orb, which is about the size of a small pumpkin, will glow green when the market is up, yellow when stocks are somnolent, and red "when it's time to call your broker." It wouldn't be a bad idea to place an Ambient Orb in front of the Democratic presidential candidates when they meet and argue every fortnight, so that market effects during their two hours together can be instantly assessed, giving Gen. Wesley Clark time to change his positions on economic policy accordingly as Ambient Orb goes green or red. Who can deny that Veblen simply did not have the foresight to see what could be devised to serve the leisure class and the great American public?