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Twinkies, Ponies and other online oddities

The insanity of the digital world is beginning to spill over into this one

Gulf News

There are a lot of weird things on the internet I will never understand.

There’s Nyan Cat, an 8-bit animation set to Japanese pop music of a cat with a pop-tart body that appears to be shooting rainbows out of its rear while it flies through space. (Wow, it’s actually even weirder when you write it out.) It’s humorous the first time, but after that… meh.

Bronies? Middle-age men with an obsession for My Little Pony. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Wincest? Sick. Sick. Sick.

But as weird and twisted as those things are, I “get” why they’re there. A lot of the stranger things you see on the Internet are just manifestations of people’s fantasies, and for reasons known only to God, these people have decided to share them.

But it used to be that people put their fantasies away when they turn the computer off, especially when money - and I mean real money, the kind that is backed by governments. Sorry, Linden dollars and Wow gold are not accepted here – is on the line. What’s bad is that increasingly that isn’t the case anymore. It’s just the opposite, in fact.

I mean, look at Twinkies. I know Twinkies and other Hostess products aren’t available here in the Middle East, but any over-weight American will tell you the actual sponge-like quality of the cake and its diabetes-inducing cream center are the epitome of great junk food.

Probably due to the medical issues arising from 82 years of Twinkie-eating, demand for Hostess’s products in the US, which include other products that make Twinkies look healthy by comparison, has fallen. All it took was a greedy union to finally push the companies into bankruptcy, which happened last week.

Americans, those still healthy enough to make it to the store, freaked and hoarding ensued. Boxes of Twinkies were going for almost $25 a pop, almost triple their price, on eBay on Friday, though the company was still shipping to stores. $2.50 for a Twinkie? Really? Many are wondering if we were on the brink of a real-world Zombieland, minus the zombies or Woody Harrelson.

But for real craziness, which is far less funny but slightly more disturbing, you need to bring in businessmen. I’ve noticed that the delusional madness that permeated the web is also working its way into retail space.

I encountered this last week when I went to buy the Samsung Galaxy Note II (yes, I’m bragging). Since you can’t walk from one end of mall to the other without being visually slapped by the hundreds of Note II advertisements, I knew that my wallet was going to take a hit. A quick search of the web warned me that I was going to see a price tag of no less than Dh2,299.

Because I generally lack patience and believe in instant gratification, I went to the mall. I was quickly punished for my rashness.

When I got there, I went to a store which had a Note II, picked it up, held it up so the sales person could see which one I was pointing to, and grunted like an ape.

The sales person’s reply: “Dh2,299.”

Cool. For a brief moment in time, rationality ruled the Universe. Retail prices matched online prices. Then I got to the counter, where the price jumped to Dh2,699. The sales person has gotten it wrong.

“This is silly,” I said. “I can get it Dh400 cheaper elsewhere.”

They, of course, wanted to know where, so I told them. The sales person smiled, and said, “Ah, yes. You can get it cheaper online.”

There was a pause while I waited for that to sink in. The pause transformed into an awkward stare. I would have been happy with a shy smile that acknowledged that yes, there was some jackassery going on. Even the old “Hey, I just work here” line would have been acceptable, but instead they just smiled back at me. No one saw the problem. The store didn’t budge. They stuck to their price, and then thanked me for coming as I walked out wondering what kind of retail store lets the competition take their sales and smile about it.

I went home, went to, and had my new phone delivered to the office the next morning. It cost Dh2,299 as promised. I wanted to go back to the store which had turned down my money, hold up my shiny new phone, and yell, “Ha, you’re all a bunch of idiots who’ll be out off a job next year.” But since I didn’t want to have to explain e-commerce to the police, I didn’t.

I really don’t understand why local retailers don’t compete with online retailers. US retailers like Barnes and Nobles, Borders and Best Buy once thought they didn’t need to compete with online retailers, and they came up with the same lame excuse. “People like to come to the store,” or “Customers don’t trust online stores as much as they trust us.”

These stores told themselves those lies until they finally went bankrupt because no one would pay for their sparkling combination of higher prices and lousy customer service.

I know that retailers have other reasons, too. They justify high prices saying that online retailers don’t have to deal with mall rents or paying salespeople. That make it sound like doing nothing is not just smart, it’s good business.

There’s a thin line between good business and insanity, and justifying higher prices because your competition has found a cheap way of doing things isn’t even close to that line. It sounds just like the insanity you find online.