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Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
“I am interested in the plan that provides 600 minutes per month for $39.99,” I informed a T-Mobile representative. “I will pay $4.99 more for 400 additional text messages.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed the T-Mobile representative, who was clad in a purple shirt.
“Do not be too enthusiastic about my purchase,” I cautioned. “I myself am none too thrilled about its necessity.”
“Why not?” queried the T-Mobile representative. “Will you miss your current cell phone company?”
I considered her question. “I must admit that I find all cell phone companies virtually identical. Though they hawk similar products at similar prices, they use distinct color schemes to give their ubiquitous technology a false personality. In economics, this is called ‘product differentiation“—-the pseudoscience of advertising. For example: I am currently a Sprint customer. Sprint’s color scheme is yellow. I am satisfied with this color scheme. Your company’s color scheme is purple. Frankly, I am not a fan of purple, and am offended by T-Mobile’s florid aesthetic. However, T-Mobile phones work in Europe. Sprint phones do not. Thus, in this case, function triumphs over fashion and, by default, I will become your customer.”
The T-Mobile representative considered my reply. “Your lack of enthusiasm about T-Mobile is tiresome, and your aesthetic snobbery is not appreciated,” she commented. “Perhaps you are more enthusiastic about Sprint’s yellow than our company’s purple. However, as you pointed out, functionality is paramount. Case in point: I recently traveled to my home country of Nigeria. I had not been to Nigeria for many years and suspect I will not be back for many years. While I was in Nigeria, communication was vital. Were I a Sprint customer, I would not have been able to communicate with anyone. However, I am a T-Mobile customer, and I purchased a new SIM card for my T-Mobile phone and was instantly connected to my friends and family via T-Mobile. I did not worry about aesthetics. I celebrated T-Mobile, as should you! Do not switch cell phone companies and complain about switching! Celebrate your commitment to functionality, and do not gripe about purple versus yellow!”
I considered the T-Mobile representative’s remarks. Her argument seemed sound. However, I was unable to evaluate it. I was distracted by the T-Mobile representative’s offhand comment that she had been to Nigeria. I have never been to Africa and am hard-pressed to imagine circumstances by which I could travel there. What is Africa like? I wondered. Is Nigeria on the savannah? Is Nigeria a wilderness? Does Nigeria have large cities? Does Nigeria look like Oklahoma, or like New York City, or both? How does Nigerian music strike the ear, and how does Nigerian food play upon the tongue? This T-Mobile representative knows the answers to these questions. I do not.
“So, now,” continued the T-Mobile representative. She pushed a document across her purple desk. “Will you sign the contract?”