I can report no visible progress whatever toward adoption of the clickle, my predicted Internet cyber-coin, a cross between a mouse click and a nickel. And so, while in no way retracting that idea (or my hopes for an infinitesmickle royalty on each clickle for thinking up the word), I have decided to diversify my cyber-portfolio with another prediction. The replicator. This was inspired moments ago in the shower, as I squeezed the last few drops from a container of obscure shampoo. Yes, I mainly use whatever hotel-size shampoolets I’ve most recently unpacked from my suitcase. Thrifty, thrifty. But somehow this shampoo had found its way into the shower (I lose socks, but just as mysteriously gain shampoo) and I was thinking what a chore it would be to try to find the same brand, or even remember to do so.
Hence, the replicator.
No, not some science fiction thing where you pass the empty bottle under a Hollywood special-effects machine and the next thing you know pixels coalesce into a brand new bottle. Nah. A real, possible idea for the next decade. And a whole new way to spend your clickles.
Every product, item of clothing, music CD, trowel, dish — everything we buy — would have an identifying bar code on its bottom. A great many of them already do. When you wanted more “copies” — more of the same shampoo, another identical trowel — you would merely swipe the bar code past the eyeball of your computer (a simple plug-in device that would soon be sold built-in ) and instantly get a screen showing the item. It would allow you to click size, quantity, and other options as appropriate (e.g., color). It would allow you to click on “competitors” to see what else might interest you. It would display alternative prices and availability times (it might be cheapest direct from the manufacturer but take a bit longer if that manufacturer were in Thailand); you would click your choices.
There would be several competing purveyors of this kind of universal shopping service. Amazon.com would be one. It started with books, would simply expand to . . . everything else. FedEx would be another. One assumes Microsoft would have an entry. You could flip your replicator eyeball scanner to any of these, setting one as your preferred “home mart.”
You’d never have to enter your address (just click if you want delivery to an alternate address), never have to fuss with a credit card (it would just tote up the bill and debit whichever account you clicked). You’d have the option to set up regular deliveries (a quart of Tropicana every Tuesday and Friday); you’d have the option that Amazon.com already gives you to have whatever you just ordered delivered immediately, or wait to be bunched with more items to reduce the shipping cost. You could set up a regular delivery schedule — with FedEx or some other carrier that got with this program, guaranteeing to show up at your home every Saturday morning between ten and one, for example, with whatever items you had ordered that week.
This system would not be great news for physical retailers or their landlords — shopping-center REIT holders take note — but it would be great for us baby boomers as, in our waning decades, we became too infirm to cruise the aisles for shampoo and trowels.
Marketers would flood us with samples, knowing that whatever we liked could be swiped past the scanner eyeball and a moment later the sale would have been completed.
Others would send you their cents-off coupons, complete with bar code (or you’d find in your newspaper). To get the item, you’d just — swipe.
L.L. Bean would begin to get orders for all those classics you and I both have in our closets . . . fraying, fading, but we love that shirt and just wish we could get another just like it. No problem! Just swipe its label. Running low on printer cartridges? Swipe. Want another of these cheap phones? Swipe. Friend come by and like that Spice Girls CD? Swipe.
This would actually be depressing. It’s more fun to go shopping — to be dazzled by the variety and have a chance to get out of the house. What am I proposing, A Clockwork Orange? But if you did want another bottle of this chamomile shampoo . . .
Look, too, for the advent of the refrigerated mailbox. New homes would all be built with a high-tech set of four mail chutes. The first, little one would be for . . . mail. The second would be for regular packages that would just thunk onto the floor, like the mail, when put through the (bigger) slot. But the third would be an actual refrigerator to keep your delivery fresh until you arrived home, and the fourth would be, of course, a freezer. Just as “green” packaging now universally denotes healthy or decaf, so the distribution system would wrap your refrigerated stuff in orange plastic and your frozen in blue. The delivery guy/gal would slip your mail through the mail slot, your trowel through the package slot — thunk, thunk. The orange shrink-wrapped stuff he had for you would go into the orange door, and the blue into the blue.
To keep passersby from reaching in for a snack, the orange and blue doors would have locks. The delivery guy’s “wand” would know all about your order and address and when passed in front of your mail chute’s eye, would confirm that he was the FedEx guy and that he had come to the right place, unlocking the refrigerator and freezer doors.
Yes, all this would add $1,000 to the cost of a new house. But so does a washer/dryer, and how many houses are sold these days without those?
Like the clickle, you heard it here first.