The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After decades, your company has changed the taste of your product from X to Y. This change has consequences for the daily routine of tens, or even hundreds of thousands of your product’s users, including mine. It does not sit well. Let me explain why.
One of the most persistent misinterpretations of the Darwinian term ‘survival of the fittest’ is that this involves a mechanism driven by the idea that ‘the strongest survives’. It’s in fact about the possibilities for a species to adapt to evolving circumstances. On an evolutionary, astronomical or geological scale, even sudden changes in environments usually take hundreds or thousands of years. Sometimes an asteroid, a volcanic eruption, a landslide or a flood can trigger adaptation, but these shifts are rarely global and the adaptations lag way behind the event. From a human perspective, biological change is a slow process.
We are simply not equipped to handle large amounts of change in short periods of time, and still, we’re forced to not only adapt to increasingly substantial shifts in big issues such as the climate and biodiversity crises, but also to an unstoppable range of deceivingly insignificant changes, such as the rebranding of products, updates of digital operating systems, shifting political ideologies, and demolished street views. All of this against a backdrop of progressing insights on human equality and emancipatory rights.
This is a lot to ask of any population. Staple businesses like banks, public transport companies, phone companies, power companies, and healthcare organizations seem to make a habit of renaming themselves each time a new board of directors is appointed.
Recently, we had to adapt to the circumstances of a pandemic. Many of us are still adapting. There’s a continuous sense of existential anchors being lifted out of solid ground. We’re adrift in ever deeper waters. Some people feel the need to throw their hooks towards anything that remotely resembles land: traditionalism, isolationism, conservationism, or even conspiracy theories. Formerly reasonable people start defending racist traditions, or set (metal) communication masts on fire out of fear for another new technology that’s being forced upon them, without proper preparation.
But these lands turn out to be floating plastic garbage islands, aimlessly drifting in the ocean. How desperate a population must be to mistake those for a future paradise?
The list of products that changed from X to Y within my lifetime is endless. My favorite perfume disappeared ten years ago, my significant other keeps looking for a shampoo that’s been discontinued for ages, hair clips that used to last for years now break within months, political alliances invent new overarching acronyms every four years, and so on.
Did any of us agree to these terms and conditions in flux? Your company states somewhere that it takes 14 days to get used to the new taste of your product. I tried it, and this is simply not the case. You replaced the unique experience of your product with a generic and exchangeable one, pleasing a wider audience that already has so many choices. All incentive for your loyal customers, who bought your product exactly because of its alternative properties, to stay loyal, is gone.I feel sad for the loss of this particular taste.
I mourn something that was part of my life since childhood. Compared to having to leave a home because forest fires are devouring it, or because machismo power games demand it to be bombed, changing X to Y seems meaningless: a ‘first world problem’. Nevertheless, I’m arguing that this kind of corporate change-drunk behaviour on a larger scale is damaging the anchors we all need.
I’d even argue that minimizing those seemingly minor changes would help forward substantial, positive changes. Instead of distrusting climate action including modifying personal behaviour, or resisting racial or gender equality as a means to anchor oneself to disintegrated ground, people will still have their products that taste like X, the fixed street views they’re used to, and brand names that are embedded in the memory of generations.
In order to change, some things need to remain the same. Don’t move around the buttons on your app. Don’t invent a new gadget every 6 months. Don’t cut down those trees. Don’t demolish that building. Don’t trade in that meadow for an industrial area. And please, don’t change the taste of your product from X to Y.
Alexandra Crouwers, Dec 4, 02020 Anno covidii. Published as part of the article The Plot, The Compositor, and Mourning/Mistakes.