There are moments in history when the people are on the move, consistent with the logic of history, and no force on earth can stop them. You can see it in the images of Russians in 1990 pulling down cast-iron statues of Lenin. You can see it in the images of the Romanian people charging Ceausescu's palace in 1989.
And I just saw it last night at Bed, Bath, and Beyond as the people raided the towers of K-cups holding coffee and tea to go into the Keurig coffee maker that is the blazing-hot item for the holidays (second only to our new pocket paperback of Human Action).
To understand why the Keurig coffee maker is firing up the forces of history in a progressive direction, we need to reflect on the dynamics of the relentless technological trend from the collective to the individual. In ancient times, bathing, for example, was a community activity: one pool of water that all people would visit. With technological progress came the family tub, in which people would dunk themselves one after another. In modern times, we each fill our own bath or take an individual shower.
So it is with phones, which, when first invented, were found one per community in the general store. Then there were party lines that several households would share. Then the phone came to the single-family home. Finally, the process of individuation culminated in the pocket cell phone, with one phone number per person. And so it is all over the world, and throughout human history, provided there is the freedom to innovate, produce, and distribute.
It's true with books too. There was the Library of Alexandria for the whole world. Then there were public libraries for whole cities. Then we progressed to private libraries in homes. Now we long for the ultimate individuation: libraries on our cell phones and books we can carry on our person. This relentless push to fulfill the demands of individualism is the driving force of human history.
And so it is with coffee. For too long we've lived with a community form of delivery. Whatever collectivist pot was made for the whole group is what we drank. Never mind that it is burned from the heating pad. Never mind that it is too strong or too weak, too dark or too light, or that it is just plain gross. Never mind that the preparation and clean up requires that we stare at unappetizingly soaked coffee grounds that clog our sinks and stink up our trash. It was what we had, and we made do.
Then came Starbucks and other specialized shops. Here we could order what we wanted and every drink was prepared fresh and according to our specifications. We are all, after all, individuals, each of us with different tastes, desires, and demands. When given the chance to express our wishes, we take it, and therein lies a great entrepreneurial opportunity for those who are daring and creative enough, and willing to take on the responsibility for giving history a push forward.