The Starbucks Psychometric

Every day I spend some time on a comfortable bench in my local Starbucks, drilling my kanji. For I have set myself to learn Sino-Chinese characters (specifically via the Japanese elementary-school syllabus), primarily as a way of staving off senility: “use it or lose it” as they say. Other people may do crosswords or Sudoku in the same spirit, and good luck to them, but these puzzles simply do not interest me.

Chinese tourists and students generally take an interest in what I am doing, presumably because they do not see very many old codgers learning to write their ideograms. Exactly the same goes, of course, for Japanese, while educated Koreans are familiar with the classical Chinese characters. Such curiosity can trump even the Asian Millennials’ addiction to their smartphone screens. Some Europeans and Americans also enquire. Norwegians ask but rarely, for they are in general an astonishingly incurious people.

Or perhaps this is because higher-educated Norwegians are not the core Starbucks market. This consists of teenagers with unlimited funds – they often order food and drink then leave without having touched it – combined with an unlimited indifference to everything beyond fashion and Facebook. Which is exclusively what they talk about, hour after hour. Females who are concerned only with cliques, it has been said, remain fourteen forever; and this is the best place to watch them doing it.

At my Starbucks there is a minority of intellectual types, even a philosophy professor, but also a minority of pigs. This type may be defined by his shoving past a person standing two feet from a door labelled W.C. in foot-high letters to rattle the handle or even enter first. Even when not doing this, they exude an air of menace, it is something about the way in which they take up space. Meanwhile, other customers are exuding an air of general inoffensiveness. Is this the general division of humanity into predators and prey, or is it something more specific to Starbucks? I am by no means sure, but would suggest that if the theme of being stuck at a certain age is part of the subculture, then the Starbucks customer base includes not only the female students who clearly intend to remain fourteen forever but also men in their forties who just as clearly intend forever to remain the 14-year-old schoolyard bully.

Probably the teenagers of all countries are squealing narcissists. It should be noted that they are the core market for practically everything, on the grounds that they have such low sales resistance. Cerebral underdevelopment combined with extreme others-dependence is a lethal combination for world culture. The only counterweight among this generation appears to be ecological idealism, something I respect even while considering the battle long lost.

Given the core market, therefore, I do wonder whether the clinical psychologists should borrow the name of this actually well-run chain to create a new psychometric. They could measure everyone along the dimensions not only of extroversion, risk aversion, authoritarianism and so forth, but also of “Starbuckery”. One end of the spectrum would be nerdhood, which is self-evidently uncool and risible, the other extreme would involve an extremely limited mental horizon. Perhaps the indifference to everything outside the cool-kids status bubble is related to attention-deficit disorder. I have noticed that children as young as three know what Starbucks is, and bully their parents to go inside. So the test could be applied at primary school.

It occurs to me that Starbucks has taken over what used to be the function of the restaurant, namely to offer cheap elegance and fake deference to the lower and middle classes that did not have napkins and fish-knives at home. The only difference between the gratifying fuss made then and now is that you are no longer seated and have someone obsequiously leaning over you to take your order. Ostentation takes the form not of being seen behind the wine-glasses but loudly sucking at straws. The fussiness, however, lives on: I wonder whether the astonishingly long-winded ordering options that seem so mandatory at a Starbucks are powered by the lack of choice in other aspects of life. If Marcuse said something similar in his day, well, it has all gotten so much worse since the Sixties.

Posted on October 29, 2018 at 19:47 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Monkey Agenda

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