Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What makes the USA tick?

My temporary flight to the U.S.A is not merely to enrich my knowledge of Heat Transfer, but is really a journey of discovery. I did set myself an ambitious target: find out what makes this powerful economy tick. Find out what makes the USA the most powerful nation in the world, financially and politically. And six months into my stay here, I think I might have struck upon the answer.

And the answer is as inoccuous as trash. The secret to America's success lies in extra packaging. In wastage. In excesses that would give any a third world country a mocked feeling. The answer lies in that mountain of junk mail that fills your post box daily. In that ton of rubbish that the newspaper boy delivers on weekends. In that ton that the garbage man takes out daily.

Just the other day, I was to recieve a tripod stand for my camera. It was a mini tripod stand, and was built more on the lines of the average human thumb as far as size is concerned. I ordered it on amazon.com; I really do not know why. So, a week later, a rather tired looking Fed-Ex guy knocked on my door and delivered a box (built more on the lines of a wooly mammoth than a thumb). It was a cubical box with a side of roughly 35 cm. I thought I recieved a television or something. I opened it up excited. I was hoping that Amazon made a mistake - that they sent me a T.V instead of the tripod stand.

But Amazon seldom errs. It was the tripod stand, alright. But there were a lot styrofoam peices within the box (impact absorbers?) , making the search for the tripod stand akin to that of a needle within a haystack. After sweating a few beads of sweat, I managed to ioslate the tripod stand. It is small enough to fit in my pocket.

Electronics in the U.S.A are sold in appetizing packages. These packages might look good from afar; they might catch your eye in a department store. But to open these packages, you will need a very sharp kinfe, scissors, gloves, a very strong set of teeth, a huge trash can, band aids - and even the kitchen sink. I have spent agonizing hours trying to open (often unsucsessfully) mp3 players, ear-phones, mobile phones, thermometers, battery cells ... the list really is endless.

It's something like this. Suppose a small package was used to, say, ship the tripod stand. Suppose almost everyone else in the U.S.A used appropriately small packages, like they do elsewhere in the world. Then, Fed-Ex would not be able to charge extra. Their entire business model would fail. There would be no "shippers". And without shipping, there would be no Amazon. No ebay. And essentially, internet would not have grown so fast. (As an aside, there would be no outsourcing to India. India would probably be in some sort of License Raj still, globalization failing to have taken root). This is not to mention, the nullfication of the current demand for trucks by Fed Ex.... the McDonalds frequented by the drivers will suffer .. the uniforms will not be sold ...

America has lots of resources. Lots of land. Very few people. This wastage is a way of saying to the world: we can afford to live extravagantly. And today's business (the consumer-suck up model) forces us to live extravagantly, even if we got scruples.

America seems to mock the world: You can't live extravagantly. Ha - Ha.

Note that I have not used my favorite 3 letter word in this post: oil. Saving it all up for a future post.

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