March 14, 2004

Sitting in Starbucks

This morning, sitting in the Starbucks at State and Liberty, two (2) things occurred to me.

First, the difference between the way the employees at a busy Starbucks approach their interaction with a customer, and the way the customer approaches their interaction with the employee, is usually very great indeed. The employee is sharp and focused; their goal is to complete the transaction with maximum efficiency and then to move on to the next customer, especially if there's a long line of customers waiting for skinny lattes and other foo-foo drinks. The customer oftentimes is listless, unfocused, and perfectly content to meander through the transaction. After all, they've come to Starbucks to relax. Take a load off. Take leave of their bodies and minds. Drift off into never-never land and play with the little green sprites... Ahem; well. Anyway, it often seems like that's what they're doing.

I worked in a coffee bar (not a Starbucks) before, and this difference of approach was often an undetected source of irritation for me. Why didn't the customers just focus? Hello? Are we all sniffing paint here, or what?

Clearly, I was not cut out for a career as a barista.

As for the other thing: I think the key to getting people to do horrible things is to give them just the tiniest of rationalizations. Hooks that they can hang their consciences on, so to speak. For example, in Babylon 5, Garibaldi-- uh, wait; I shouldn't tell you if you haven't yet seen Babylon 5 for yourself. That would be cruel. Anyway, it isn't even relevant because after Garibaldi was captured he was-- um, better not spoil that one, either.

Here's another example. Pro-bono work at a Biglaw firm. The tit-for-tat goes like this: you sign up for Biglaw, which you may find isn't your most ethically satisfying kind of work, but you'll do it because they give you a convenient rationalization: you can do pro-bono work in your "free time." Even though you know the net effect of this arrangement is still that the vast majority of your work is ethically unsatisfying, you'll swallow it because you've got a rationalization. Reason is trumped by the rationalization, you might say.

Now, this is just an example. Clearly not everyone finds Biglaw work ethically unsatisfying. But my original Babylon 5 example didn't exactly work like I thought it would, so cut me some slack. Imagine for yourself some kind of ethically dubious activity, and ask yourself why you think people choose to do it. I'll bet that you'll be able to identify a few little rationalizations in there somewhere.

Ahh, Starbucks.

Posted by Carey at March 14, 2004 05:21 PM

I was think about our conversation the other day, about how you hope for a more "agrarian" ethic. It would seem to me that Starbucks (along with McDonald's, Walmart, Borders, etc.) represents the polar opposite of that ethic. You should patronize the locally owned coffee shops, such as the rendezvous cafe. Don't mean to be preachy, i go to Starbucks sometimes myself, but I'm merely reminding you of things that you have said, and shamelessly plugging some pretty cool places.

Posted by: Larry at March 14, 2004 06:52 PM

Oh, please finish the Garibaldi comments. I really miss Garibaldi.

Actually, I really miss B5 as a whole. Please talk more about it. Thank you.

Posted by: transmogriflaw at March 15, 2004 01:03 AM

With the cancellation of Angel, what good TV will us geeks be able to talk about next season? Buffy, B5, Firefly, arrggghhh! On the bright side, it's probably better that I spend that hour studying anyways.

Posted by: Ming Shui at March 15, 2004 08:21 PM

What do you think about elections?

Posted by: James Lekheto at October 2, 2004 04:12 AM - fine thing :)

Posted by: Maminov Onopko at October 3, 2004 03:54 PM