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Leading them by the nose

The frenzy surrounding the Sony PlayStation Portable struck a familiar theme in the history of American consumerism.

Why would somebody of sound mind wait 36 hours on the street just to be first in line when a store opens its doors for business? "It's fun," Richard Roth told our very own sleep-deprived reporter David Becker, after being the first person in San Francisco to buy a Sony PlayStation Portable. Then again, you should consider the source. Four years earlier, Roth said, he also was first in line to buy a PS2. "It's my 15 minutes of fame. You don't get on CNN for putting in a preorder at GameStop."

Such is the power of marketing to convince people of otherwise sound mind to act like goofs and spend as if their lives depended on it. Sony's quite good at this. Apple is even better--witness the expert way the company generates advance buzz for upcoming products.

But nothing holds a candle to the mania that settled upon this country in 1983 when Coleco's Cabbage Patch doll mania sent moms and dads across America into a months' long scavenger hunt--and the toys were butt-ugly, at that!