Just about every time I run into Steve Goldberg and Starbucks is mentioned, he starts talking about how they sell consistency instead of good coffee. There is a poem by Richard Brautigan that is particularly trenchant in this context:

Xerox Candy Bar

you’re just a copy
of all the candy bars
I’ve ever eaten.

So I guess another variable can be thrown in with the quantity and quality argument that I had with myself a while ago. Quantity, Quality and now Consistency. I can see no problem with consistency if the quality is high, but consistency at the price of quality is a bit troubling. I’m pretty sure the root of this foolish consistency lies with the Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, or Samuel Colt and his revolvers, or perhaps even as late as Henry Ford’s assembly lines; and with the first manufactories . I’m not aiming at some sort of Luddite anti-​Industrial Revolutionism here, although anymore I have to wonder if the price is worth it.

Instead I’m trying to say that we’ve become accustomed to consistency and comforted by it. We’d rather have the same burnt cup of coffee and the same department store layout each place we visit instead of taking the risk of being startled by changes in the quality of the product. I guess it is no surprise at the world-​listlessness of many folks if you think of it in these terms. If you eat the same feed every day it is no surprise you start thinking like a cow.

4 thoughts on “Consistency

  1. I was at Play It Again, Sam in Lakewood yesterday and the proprietor showed me a record player that had been invented by an audiophile who also happened to engineer precision laser cutting equipment. Instead of using the same basic design that every other phonograph uses, this guy had made an instrument that had extremely high fidelity, a hydraulic needle guide to avoid even the slightest record scratching, an offset spindle weight to keep the record from even the slightest wobble, a twisted belt and pulley system to keep the belt from rattling and sound dampened and separated equipment to avoid even the slightest modulation on the audio output. He truly invented a better mousetrap. I wonder what other things could be improved yet haven’t been because “good enough” is enough.

    Hope your car is functional again.

  2. Shalom Adam,

    I’m reminded of my brief forey into the world of espresso machine repair this summer. There is no standardization among machines. While they all operate on the same principles, the way each designer approaches and utilizes those principles is different. It makes for a maddeningly complex challenge when ordering parts.

    Or take the case of my 1990 Toyota Camry. A few weeks ago I replaced a CV axle and had to also replace the seal between the axle and the transmission. My mechanic went nuts trying to find the $5 seal. Toyota put four different transmissions on that particular 4-​cylinder engine and each seal was a little different. Add to that that the company used multiple sources for the seals, even on the identical transmission.

    The end result was several gallons of transmission fluid on the ground while the mechanic tried seal after seal.

    On a car, consistancy is a good thing. On an espresso machine, perhaps not so good. On women, its always bad.



  3. Hey Adam,

    I find consistency problematic, even when the quality is high. There’s been little evidence shown to me that anything (man-​made) exists that can’t be improved. There’s also been little evidence that consistency is anything more than a breeding ground for stagnancy. Beyond these points, the cost of stagnancy in a world full of people who have wildly varying standards for “high quality,” is nothing short of injustice. 😀 Hope all is well.

Comments are closed.