My Internet, My Vanilla Coke, and Me

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Feb 02, 2006 9:33 AM

This morning, I'm sitting at my computer drinking a Vanilla Coke. Mmmm.

"But Mary Katharine," you think to yourself, "Vanilla Coke is discontinued. How can it be that you're drinking it?" Well, first you probably thought, "Ewww, who drinks Vanilla Coke?" but that's beside the point.

The point is this. That I am drinking the delicious Vanilla Coke instead of that homage to Robitussin they call Black Cherry Vanilla, which Coke has seen fit to foist upon us. Blech.

I dawdled in December and did not stockpile a supply of the soon-to-be discontinued nectar-licious 'Nilla, thinking that it would hang around on the shelves for a little while after the first of the year. I was wrong.

Luckily, some spunky entrepreneur out there knew there would be people like me who needed that one last taste of Vanilla Coke and had neglected to provide for themselves. I am Aesop's grasshopper with a caffeine habit.

That entrepreneur is located in New Jersey, about a 4-hour drive from here. I have never met him, but ebay brought us together. One PayPal transaction and two days later, and I'm guzzling contraband Coca-Cola.

Ain't the 21st century in the U.S. of A. just grand?

I also use ebay to buy my favorite scent of body spray and lotion, which Bath & Body Works discontinued last year. "Wow, Mary Katharine" you're thinking to yourself, "you must have phenomenally bad taste, since everything you like fails miserably in the free market."

That may be true, but isn't it wonderful that the free market and the Internet allow the taste-challenged to buy their roundly rejected products online from fellow Americans who have roundly rejected them? And, those people get to make money off of products in which they have absolutely no interest. Is capitalism great, or what?

Last year, I got my dad a bottle of his favorite Old Spice aftershave (disconinued circa 1988) for Father's Day. Apparently the taste thing is hereditary.

A couple of years ago, much of this chunk of modern commerce was an impossibility. People had things they didn't want, all over the world. Somewhere in the world, there were people who wanted to buy those things, but they couldn't find each other. Maybe if they were in the same town and happened to read the same classifieds section, but other than that, not so much.

Now, ebay and Craig's List and Monster and Journalism Jobs make the connections.

Newspapers, in addition to their many other woes, are losing classifieds revenue in big ways to sites like these.

It sounds trivial, but there is nothing trivial about the complex net of connections and self-interest and human interaction that made my morning Vanilla Coke a reality. It's a symbol of the fact that ebay took a world full of junky garages and castaway items and turned it into $44.3 billion dollars of business in '05 (that's the total value of successfully closed listings on ebay in FY05).

They used the Internet to connect people, and those peoples' smarts, self-interest, and a little something called the Invisble Hand created a whole heck of a lot of wealth where there was none before. New wealth. That's an amazing thing. I'm continually amazed that there are people out there who still think a central government could plan an economy. I long for the day when a government runs as smoothly as ebay.

So, yeah. Free Market=Cool. Internet=Cool. Free Market + Internet= Vanilla Coke in my fridge. We're living the dream here, folks. Enjoy it.