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First Impression 

Recently, the sides of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue buses have been graced with ads featuring the latest personal listening device—the illegitimate cousin of the iPod, called Zen. For reasons known only to them, God and a goodly number of focus groups, advertisers have latched onto a marketing strategy that invokes higher powers. “Find your Zen,” the ads say. If you took the ad’s advice, you’d find something that looks an awful lot like an iPod, with the advantage of having one less letter in its name. In any case, it’ll be an enlightening exercise to see if the name is copyrightable. Should Zen become a registered trademark, it could lead to some heady legal confrontations: Dharma vs. Downloads, Hungry Ghosts vs. Patent Attorneys. Or, in the spirit of reconciliation, we might be treated to advertisements featuring a roomful of smiling monks, sitting on meditation cushions, plugged into their own personal Zens and listening to—the Sutras, we hope. Quite likely, the ads coyly wouldn’t tell us. The monks might be sneaking in a little James Brown on the side.

If Zen works, we can, as they say in the biz, expect more of the same. You can almost hear the conversation in the Idea Room as they search for new, trendy names coined from similar realms: “OK people, we’re looking for some bounce, but nothing too…ethnic. Catholicism—fuggedaboutit, too much bad press. Judaism—too New York. And besides, words with “ch” in them sound like you’re clearing your throat. Islam—are you serious? Unitarian—too white bread. Tao is good, but it sounds like a chemical company. And besides, it’s already taken—a tea, or something. Confucianism—too many syllables. But look, we got a gold mine with this Buddhism thing: Bardo—taking software to a whole other level; Nirvana—the world’s most dependable hard drives (and as quiet as one hand clapping); Mantra—the ultimate way to share your most personal sound files. What’s not to like?”

So here’s a prediction, based on the success of Zen, we can look forward to the next incarnation in this line of products: an implant that will allow you to access MP4s by just thinking about them. Who knows? In an effort to steal back some marketing thunder, it may already be in development by Apple, destined for release at the MacExpo in 2010, code name—The Void. Which only goes to prove that Nothing is, or at least once was, sacred.

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