One of the best lines in The Lord of the Rings comes in the second book when Theoden, king of Rohan, asks, “How did it come to this?”
I feel his pain.
I was flipping through the junk mail in my (real, not virtual) mail box the other day and came upon a little flyer. Someone had done their psycho-marketing homework. It caught my attention. It was a black card with bold white letters that said:
Too busy to read this flyer? You need . . . MEL.
I was intrigued.
I turned the card over and studied it. I learned that Mel is short for “Managing Everyday Living.” Wow, I marvelled. How did they figure out how to do that?
The card explained it. Bottom line? They charge big bucks to do stuff for you. I checked out their web site and found out that, for example, if you are too busy to walk your dog, they will do it for you (“Sometimes looking after that special member of the family just doesn’t fit with a super busy schedule. On those occasions, let Mel do the legwork.”). They do it all. They’ll take your car in for service, clean your house, cut your grass. They’ll even buy your (fill in the blank) a birthday/anniversary/wedding gift.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised by this, having seen a lot worse in Japan. There you can hire people to go visit your parents if you’re too busy. If your child is a friendless geek you can hire friends for them. You can even get an actor to come to your wedding and pretend he’s your boss and say nice things about you. I’ve heard you can pay someone to arrange your parents’ funeral (preferably after they’re dead) and they’ll go and mourn for you if you’re too busy. But in a country where the average person works twelve hours a day and spends two hours a day commuting to and from work, I’m inclined to agree that they need all the help they can get.
I’d heard of this sort of service before but never knew anyone who used it. Sort of like I know that there are shows with Elvis impersonators but don’t know anyone who’s ever gone to one. So I was kind of surprised that in the face of global recession, the reach of service providers like this has expanded to the point where they are growing their business with mail drops. After all, in a period of record unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and cost cutting, why would they think people are too busy to look after themselves? And have the readies to pay someone to do this stuff for them?
So the question is, who are these people who are buying Mel’s service? Who is so busy that although they have a dog they don’t have time to walk it? Isn’t that sort of like having a TV and hiring someone to watch it because you’re too busy? I mean, what’s the point?
Ignoring pets for a moment, think about what this Mel idea does to the concept of gift giving. I imagine it works like this: “Hey Mel, get my wife an anniversary gift, will ya? Make it blue. She likes blue. Between $50 and $100 should do it. What’s that? There’s a discount if I deliver it myself? OK then, drop it by my office so I can give it to her.”
What a tender, loving gesture.
It’s not only a question of who is so busy, it is a question of what are they so busy doing? I’m trying to imagine what their day must be like. We can assume that they have time for basic bodily functions like eating and sleeping. Otherwise they would be dead. (Mel’s website doesn’t indicate whether one of their services is to continue your life after you die by walking the dog and buying gifts for your family and friends, but you have to contact them directly for details on the deluxe package, so I don’t know). Anyway, my guess is that these people greatly limit their bodily functions. You know the type. Four hours of sleep a night. Power meals, preferably at a café with WiFi hot spots. Cell phone surgically implanted into their skull. Texting while driving. I.e., they’re busy!
But I still can’t believe that there are enough jobs out there where all people do is work and sleep to sustain demand for Mel’s services. And, by the way, Mel isn’t a lone operator. I checked and this is big business. The Personal Assistant profession (sometimes called Lifestyle Manager) is overseen by the International Concierge and Errand Association and they even offer a professional credential called “Certified Concierge Specialist.” I take this as further proof that there are a lot of them out there.
So if it’s not high pressure jobs that are driving the demand for Mel, what is? In the course of my research, the answer to Theoden’s question came to me: It’s the fault of the computer. The ultimate time saving efficiency tool. Between e-mail, the Internet and things like Facebook and Twitter is it any wonder no one has any time?
So stop reading this, step away from the computer and go walk the dog!