On the locker-room corkboard at my gym, a woman has been advertising customized nail polish, a product I didn’t realize could be made to order.
Want glitter for Christmas? No problem.
A certain shade of mauve to match that stunning mother-of-the bride dress? Coming right up.
I’m forever amazed at entrepreneurs’ inventiveness in making the shopping experience so personal.
Customization — of nail polish, sneakers, M&Ms, even news stories — is all the rage these days. A National Public Radio blog invited readers to enter their names in a window on the website. By doing so, “you are reading the story that you are co-writing — about yourself.” It’s a bit disingenuous, since the writing is already done and your name simply replaces certain pronouns, but I took the time to do it, didn’t I?
I’m not sure how I feel about customization. I like the idea that in a global marketplace that prizes uniformity, I can own a product like no other. Yet I’m skeptical. What am I giving up for this choice? Does it mean less privacy? A dizzying array of alternatives that will only serve to paralyze me?
As a journalist, I’m bombarded — and that word precisely describes the sensation — by emails and ads promising to show me how to target specific readers through a variety of social media. It sounds great, but in the end is just one more burdensome set of decisions.
Beginning in the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed how society manufactured things and, as a result, what we bought and how we bought it. The market went from handcrafted products to machine-made ones, from no two alike to all the same.
Today, in what some economists are calling the New Industrial Revolution, manufacturing is computer-driven, nimble and often noiseless. Those grimy shop floors have given way to robotics. And yet we are stepping back into the future. Technology has made mass customization possible.
Consider those fan-favorite M&Ms. If I open the bag next to my keyboard, I’ll find the usual colors with an “M” printed in white on them. But if I visit the company’s website, I can customize the candy for any celebration.
Same with Barbies. The Barbie Styled by Me will cost you more, but you’ll avoid the embarrassment of little Suzy bringing the same doll everyone owns to her friend’s sleepover.
Individualization is catching on with athletic shoes, too, and high-end purses and coats, even soda. Last month, Marriott announced it’s exploring ways in which guests can choose the wall colors of the Residence Inn rooms they stay in.
At some point in my life, all these options might have sounded like fun. Now, not so much. I’ve begun to rid myself of gadgets I rarely use and clothes I never wear. Fewer choices — less fuss, fewer complications — often make me happier.
I can’t envision myself caring about the colors of my hotel room. Or the stripes on my Nikes. Or the color of M&Ms at Christmas. The Barbie …well, that’s a different matter.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.