Monday, September 09, 2002

Good ideas can become so popular that they're no longer useful.

Somebody started a service called the Rejection Hotline
to take the sting out of that critical moment when one person asks another for their phone number and the other doesn't want to give it. They give the RH number instead -- and there are 14 cities where they can do this -- and the caller then hears a recorded message that boils down to this: "Sorry, dude, that's rough, but whoever gave you this number doesn't want to know you." Good idea, right? And the guy who came up with it has a web site, sponsors, and even offers a line of Rejection Hotline calling cards that serve the same purpose.

Well, that's fine, but this can only work for so long, right? Pretty soon word will get around. If you get the same phony number from three or four different people, sooner or later you're going to figure it out. And when you do, being given that number will be just as humiliating as being told to sod off -- or almost, anyway. I suppose that if you're with friends, and they don't know about RH, you might be saved some embarrassment. But even so, this idea surely has a shelf life that gets shorter the more word gets around.

Some years ago I had an idea for feeding the poor that I told to my Mom: Why doesn't somebody make some kind of cheap, nutritious People Chow for folks who don't have enough money for conventional food? It could be made like pet food, except with more attention to sanitary conditions and palatability. There are already people eating dog food, for cryin' out sake! At the time it didn't occur to me that there would be a stigma attached to such a product, and the people who needed it the most might never bring themselves to buy it.

But my Mom shot down the idea even quicker than that. She said, "You know, if that stuff ever really caught on, they'd only raise the price anyway." And with one deft blow, People Chow became the idea that could never be.

My one political insight.

I try not to pay much attention to national politics, but I feel like I have to a little bit these days out of sheer self-defense. With that disclaimer, here's my one bit of punditry, concerning the 2000 presidential election. People who say they hate Bill Clinton for his sleaziness often say they hate Al Gore too, even though by political standards he's relatively clean. But by rejecting Gore and then -- by process of elimination, if nothing else -- embracing George Bush, they ended up with a president who's more like Clinton than Gore ever was.

Now, I don't take it as a personal slight if anybody disagrees with me on this. I'm not married to it, and in any event I'm skeptical about the value of the political process in general. But whatever happens, I'll stand by my conviction that Bush is an idiot until I get information to the contrary. So far nothing yet.


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