New world order is hard to handle

Do you ever feel like the entire world has changed its rules of operation and someone just forgot to inform you? Last week I went to the drive-through of a local fast-food restaurant for a large regular coffee on my way to run errands. “I want a large regular coffee,” I said to the ordering kiosk outside my car window, confident I had clearly communicated my desires.

“We don’t have large; we have medium,” replied the friendly voice on the loudspeaker.

“You’re out of large?” I asked, thinking the problem must be a lack of appropriately sized cups.

“No, medium is the large. We have small and medium,” the loudspeaker voice announced, in a much sharper tone.

“How can you have a medium without a large? Medium means in the middle,” I said.

“We have small and medium” said the loudspeaker, now in a tone that clearly indicated that the only way I was going to get any coffee was to concede that medium was the new large.

So there I am, drinking my 28-ounce “medium” coffee and trying desperately to remember Ms. Ellis’ third-grade lessons on English comparatives and superlatives from some 30 years ago: small, medium, large; short, medium, tall; good, better, best; bad, worse, worst; little, less, least.

It all made some sense back then. What would Ms. Ellis have done if I had told her I was dropping large all together and I would just use medium when I meant large? I’m not sure, but that is definitely the type of smart-alecky comment that could cancel one’s recess ASAP. I should know: At least half of my third-grade recesses were canceled by Ms. Ellis.

This sort of thing happens to me more nowadays. Perhaps these rule changes are just a side effect of living in the new twitterrific world of constant instant messages. Having three options for sizes probably required too much typing for such small distinctions. So someone — I suspect celebrity and top-twitterer Ashton Kutcher — decided to lop off large from the lexicon to streamline texting for everyone.

This just makes me paranoid. What else has changed? Is better the new best? Farther the new farthest? When I receive a nice gift, should I say, “Aw you’re the better”? Just how else have Kutcher and his friends “punked” the world?

Last fall, while waiting for the economic doldrums to pass, I dusted off some of my programming skills in an attempt to create and sell applications for the iPhone. Learning the iPhone’s language was not difficult, but figuring out what iPhone users think is worth purchasing is turning out to be nearly impossible.

Just about the time I was ready to release my first effort — what I thought would be a best-selling productivity program — an application called iFart became the top-selling application for the iPhone. Yes, iFart does what you think it does: It makes your phone fart. iFart sells for only one dollar, but by selling thousands of copies each day, the developer of iFart has made well over a quarter of a million dollars to date, nearly $30,000 on Christmas day alone.

This type of information leaves me terribly conflicted. On the one hand, I am totally disgusted by how immediately popular anything becomes in our society if it appeals to our most crude instincts or humors. On the other hand, I have an impulse of unmitigated greed — how can I come up with an application that sells as well as iFart? Think of the next iFart, and you can retire early.

But it looks like things are not all milk and honey for the developer of iFart, who recently sued a competing application. “I’ve got nothing against the people who make Pull My Finger. In my opinion, their app was inferior to ours,” said Joel Comm, the man behind iFart. “My team and I strongly believed that when people were given a choice between the two, iFart would be the clear winner.”

I can see it now. Comm’s fate will be like that of the Wright brothers, who, after inventing a flying machine, spent the rest of their lives and money in court battles to protect their invention. How long will the iFart trials last?

Although I don’t always understand the way the world is changing around me, at least now I know I have company. I mean, think of the poor guy who graduated from law school, ready to set off and change the world, and now finds himself handling the “iFart” v. “Pull My Finger” case.

If I ever meet him, I’m definitely going to buy him a medium coffee.

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Portions of this post were first printed in the Columbia Daily Tribune in an article by the author.