On Line Culture

On my way home today, I walked by hundreds of people waiting in line at Apple and AT&T stores. The iPhone line snaked all the way down Greene to Houston, along Houston and then halfway up Mercer. Prince St was filled with photographers taking photos of the purchasers (including Whoopi Goldberg) and people gawking at the line.

The first people to plunk down upwards of $500 for a iPhone had been waiting in line for days.

Why? Is it just the Jobs Reality Distortion Field at work?

The obvious answer comes from basic microeconomics. Demand exceeding supply. Until 6 PM today, the supply of iPhones in the world was 0 while lots and lots of people (including me) wanted one. At 6 PM, the supply started to exist and the market is quickly adapting and supplying the customers.

That assumes that there is enough supply to meet the demand. If you were not in line early, you may not be able to buy an iPhone at all this weekend. It might take weeks or months to resupply after the launch.

But even if there is enough stock at the Apple stores to meet demand, I'm sure that people would have lined up early. An Apple release is an event. A while back, I walked by a line snaking around the block at the Apple store in NYC for the release of a new version of the Mac OS-- one that could have been pre-ordered online.

For some consumer electronics, demand still outstrips supply. Just a couple of weeks ago, David Berkowitz waited in line for a Wii at the Nintendo store. For some consumer electronics, demand still outstrips supply. Just a couple of weeks ago, David Berkowitz waited in line for a Wii at the Nintendo store.

In Soviet Russia, people queued up for bread because the demand for bread regularly exceeded the supply. In Manhattan, people wait in line for up to an hour for a burger at Shake Shack.

20070530herebedumbasses.jpg
(credit: A Hamburger Today)

In 2004, Star Wars fans waited on line-- many in costume-- at the Ziegfeld theater for Star Wars Episode II. Yes, they waited in line after seeing the awful Episode I. Admittedly, it was a fundraiser for charity, but just as much a celebration of the fan community.

I suspect that waiting in line is not merely a way of allocating goods, but just as much for the shared experience and feeling part of a community.

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