But he's got a much larger point to make. The dread "New Coffee Experience" turns out to be emblematic of one of the key ills of modern times, the servant problem:
It is "just one instance of the growing practice of shifting the burden of labor to the consumer—gas stations, grocery and drug stores, bagel shops (why should I put on my own cream cheese?), airline check-ins, parking lots."
Imagine, a man of his distinction, forced to "put on my own cream cheese." Why is there no one to do it for him?
He might have mentioned ATMs. Used to be you could walk into a bank and ask a teller to give you a couple hundred bucks, and they'd hand it over, "twenty seconds, tops." No troubling paperwork, remember? And what about credit card machines? Now, it's "insert this, swipe that, choose credit or debit, enter your PIN, push the red button, error, start again."
One wants to feel sympathy for professor Fish in his distress. But although most of the unintentional humor in professor Fish's column comes from his comic cluelessness about things he thinks are "new" in the culture, this note of entitlement gives it a kind of nasty edge.
He concedes toward the close of his column: "[N]one of us has chosen to take over the jobs of those we pay to serve us."
Is it just me, or is there something grating in that phrase: "those we pay to serve us"? So distasteful, the life of the servant class, compared with the life of the mind.
But at least in the old days the servant class hopped to it and got professor Fish his coffee and Danish in "20 seconds, tops" and worked themselves to the point of exhaustion all day for less than a minimum wage to make sure he would have something to consume with his "sports page."
As multidegreed as he is, I have a feeling that it would be an invaluable addition to his education if professor Fish spent a week "serving" as a barista. You know: For someone who believes in perspectives rather than foundations (except when it comes to grants), it would seem like a useful additional perspective on the whole coffee-servant question.
He also might want to consider that, while in some ways we do more ourselves these days, some of us might just prefer that to having servants? Just another perspective.
Still, the column makes clear why his kind of deep thinking has earned him academic stardom and university deanships. Such a man deserves to be served. Not to have to serve himself.
In any case, the op-ed may not have been a total loss; it might suggest the subject for his next magnum opus: Surprised by Starbucks.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse
Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.