Funny side-up: Enter the age of absurdity, a time to be afraid?

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 20, 2018 12:21 hrs

Shopkeeper: "Will you be paying by credit card, EPS, Apple Pay, debit card, Google Pay, Bitcoin or sacrifice of your first-born?"

Me: "Uh, do you take cash? No? Okay, I guess it's one of the kids, then."

Life is so complicated these days! Many things which cost money can no longer be bought using money.

The world's biggest shopkeeper, Alibaba, doesn't have any shops...The world's biggest taxi company, Uber, doesn't own any taxis...

"None of the shows I watch these days are made by moviemakers. They're all made by delivery firms," said a reader.

True. Netflix was set up to deliver videos and Amazon to deliver books. Now both make TV shows.

What next? A hotel chain with no hotels? Oh, wait, a friend of mine just stayed in an Airbnb room.

A young Indian reader offered her favourite modern Asian absurdity: "Today, parents tell us not to talk to strangers but still try to get us to marry one."

Sometimes, the names and functions of organisations are mismatched deliberately. I read recently that an organisation called "Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County" was set up in the US.

It sounded reasonable but was oddly focused on fighting the sugary drinks tax. Reporters looking at the donations list discovered that the "citizens" who financed it were Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Red Bull.

Real life is so out of control that it's no surprise people flee to the Internet -- but things are even more confusing there. It horrifies me to think that it's statistically likely that there must exist at least one real Nigerian prince who wants to share his mega-fortune with me and is wondering why I haven't responded to his email.

I was moaning about the confusions of modern life when an "older gentleman" in our social group said that this was nothing new: Companies have always changed their core businesses.

"Most young people today probably have no idea that Shell, the multinational oil company, is called that because it started as a shop selling seashells," he said. "Sharp, the Japanese electronics firm, made pencils. Nintendo, the king of video games, made playing cards."

(This guy can probably remember when stone was the big thing and everyone poured scorn on the cheeky upstarts trying to usher in the Bronze Age.)

But I must admit I was amazed to learn from him that Nokia was set up to make rubber boots but accidentally became the global king of mobile phones.

Clues to a company's original purpose were often hidden in the name, he explained. American Express was a delivery service, carrying stock certificates or currency by horse or train across America at "express" speed. Then someone at the company decided to give the horse a rest and just lend people the cash -- which is how American Express became a financial firm.

This led me to wonder if my historian friend had the answer to a mystery. Where I live, there are five branches of a supermarket chain called Park'n'shop and not one of them has anywhere you can park.

"If Park'n'shops were places where you could park and shop, that would make logical sense," he said. "On his planet, that's always too much to ask for."

Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller.

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