Valley Voice
Why Silicon Valley loves waiting in line

It’s the time of year again when retail madness rules in Silicon Valley. But in the light of Airbnb, Uber, the sharing economy and billion dollar valuations, we tend to forget what sharing is really about.
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People in San Francisco love waiting in line. You’ll find well-ordered queues simply everywhere, in front of the vegan breakfast cafe, the socially conscious yoga-inspired Lululemon store or at Whole Foods. The supermarket chain specializes in organic food. It used to sell “Asparagus water” – a bottle of water with three stalks of asparagus in each – for $5,99 apiece.

People queue outside despite the fact that those products might be highly over-priced. Just as if the line is a must-have of its own. There is no Apple product launch without thousands camping at the entry ahead of the launch. Oh, look at the queue – Apple’s “Asparagus water” must be really good.

Now, “Black Friday” is approaching, the main season for queueing. The crowd floods the cities and retailers offer huge discounts. On the biggest shopping day of the year people are waiting on the sidewalk since dawn for the start of the bargain-hunt.

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Waiting in line seems to create a collective feeling. “Black Friday” – that is the idea that people who cannot afford a fancy flatscreen TV, an Apple Watch or any of this high-priced tech-products are finally able to buy them. It is the belief that if you play by the rules and wait long enough, it will be your turn one day. Waiting in line is the physical experience of the American dream.

Unfortunately, this particular American dream has caused a number of negative incidents in history, including stampedes, pepper-spraying and even stabbings and shootings. This year the internet community celebrated the first retailers who boycott “Black Friday” and shut down operations. Well done – but the real issue at stake is: Do we really need “Asparagus water” – even with an up to 60 percent discount?

It is Thanksgiving in Silicon Valley and I am invited to a dinner for the first time. I am not a refugee; I am a very privileged stranger in this country. But I can tell you one thing: It’s really great to be invited. In the face of Airbnb, Uber and the sharing economy and billion dollar valuations, we tend to forget what sharing really is all about. It is giving something – without looking for returns.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Britta Weddeling is a technology journalist with Handelsblatt, Germany's #1 business daily, based in San Francisco. She is author of a weekly English tech column called "Valley Voice" and contributes every week to a podcast at a major German radio station (Deutschlandradio,"Was mit Medien").

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