Op-Ed: Starbucks Entertains Office Orphans with Coffee and MusicBy MIKA POHJOLA
NEW YORK - As office retail prices have soared in major cities around the country, and private entrepreneurs increasingly rely on home office space, leaving the home anywhere outside the four walls has become an everyday need rather than a weekend cozy excursion. New developments in the real estate market often present a home office in the floorplan, a small pitiful space with no window. That space seldom if ever triggers energy for that extra work pressure, as we humans are dependent on natural luminosity. A conspiracy cynic would say Starbucks has bribed the real estate developers for creating the concept of these windowless rooms, previously categorized as storage space.
Starbucks is a fantastic business concept. It provides a familiar looking space and synchronous assortment of caffein related products, which promote dependency of same - both the space and the caffein. This concept could not fail. Starbucks is seldom a social club as flocks of single customers are buried in their laptop assignments, or ironically socializing with friends over networks or text messages located who knows where on the globe.
Everything good so far, but then comes the critical look, not so much at the effects of the much discussed digital life, but what kind of values the surrounding space in this case the Starbucks reality advocates. As a successful trademark of any kind needs to have a look and characteristics Apple iPhones, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci Starbucks has naturally created brand consciousness. Selling lifestyle and illusion as opposed to something tangible is a key to its success. As often noted in the blogosphere, Starbucks' coffees, merely varying in the amount of syrup, is largely based on sameness. This makes it predictable and safe, unfortunately to some even comfortable and preferable, but in the long run this will admittedly be a dull choice as an everyday solicitation of basic service. Not including the special frappucinos and other alikes, Pike Place, Sumatra blend, Spicy Java, you name it, offer basically one thing: A bitter taste of a substance, which a recently overinflated company decided to call coffee. In comparison, when tasting the pre-Starbucks engineered coffee blends Danesi, Lavazza and Blå Mocca the word bitter is not the first one in the vocabulary. But with its dominance of the market, Starbucks is quickly reinventing what coffee is and is not. Perhaps the quality coffee ought to be called traditional or art coffee in the future?
If the bitter sameness of Starbucks were limited to the sense of taste, it would hardly be worth a comment. It's been discussed for long. However, it is the increasing trend of circumsectorial uniformality, perpetuated by the largest companies, offering cartel-like models and so-called solutions for consumers, which is a threat to choice and independence in our country; this all taking place while some still fear the government's intentions toward the same effect.
Starbucks Entertainment, in cooperation with the Apple iTunes store, presents pre-selected music for the daily visitors. Two weeks ago I heard Sir Paul McCartney and was delighted, he is a great musician. One week ago I heard Paul again, and thought it was a coincidence. Now I'm listening to the the original Beatles version of 'Yesterday', and I'm more annoyed at this than the identical tastes of Pike Place and Sumatra coffee. The major record labels have indeed more than this to offer, how about some Fernando Huergo or Herbie Hancock Head Hunters as a change?
The Apple iTunes store is the largest music store in the world. It has an unprecedented variety and capability of offering an eclectic music atmosphere. All it needs is a credible music director, who plans and presents music based on variety. Starbucks and iTunes have a choice: Represent sameness, or a wide variety of artists and choice. I want to hear John Coltrane, Ben Monder, Oscar Peterson and Steely Dan. The last mentioned appears occasionally, maybe, but the other major artists are thoroughly absent from the scene, as defined by Starbucks Entertainment. Luckily, Starbucks Entertainment and iTunes store, in spite of their dominant role in music consumption habits, do not represent the whole truth or especially nothing but the truth.
One day soon we may regain our freedom and find a window in the home office room, or simply choose to move to apartments with real rooms, brew our own tasty and smooth coffee and program our own music playlists. These parameters will also frame the natural opportunity for a fresh weekend excursion.
Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010