It’s amazing the amount of information we use and take for granted each day, unconsciously. Our minds adapt and file little shortcuts all around us to make living that much more effortless.

Until one of those “truths” changes, and we’re snapped rather rudely into full consciousness like waking up in the middle of the night. The slight changes to the curves of the 520 bridge approach, for example, are still weirding me out weeks later. The first time I encountered the changes, I (like most of the Puget Sound, probably) felt convinced for a moment that I was hurtling out of control.

At Microsoft, we are the land of many sodas (like other tech companies, though they’re all totally copying us.) There is a very comforting, expected pattern – in every kitchen, two full-size standing coolers. One Pepsi, one Coke, since their suppliers seem to believe in cooties. And in those coolers, the rarely-changing spectrum of beverages. Juice and milk, sodas, and sparkling waters.

But that spectrum. There are certain truths we hold to be self-evident. In particular, blue water. The sparkling water selections in the coolers are actually very popular, since many folks are health or caffeine-conscious and don’t want to drink sodas ALL day. And they have a color scheme. Blue is for ‘natural’, green is for lemon-lime, orange for… whatever the orange flavor is. When folks offer to grab drinks from the cooler for someone, often we’ll ask for a “blue water” or a “green water”. And we all know what that means.

And yet. A perfect storm converged upon our quiet coolers. (Well, most are quiet. Some could definitely use a repair.) Because Microsoft orders SO MUCH Talking Rain sparkling water, we can actually custom-print the cans to advertise internal events to ourselves. Conferences and the like. About two months ago, the blue water became green for an Xbox advertisement celebrating their decade anniversary.

But if blue water == green, what is green water? Which green water? STACK OVERFLOW. ABORT, RETRY, FAIL?

Recently it’s gotten worse. The blue water is now purple, thanks to Kinect. So at least we haven’t overloaded the concept of green anymore. But the green water in most places is black, from some conference advertisement last month. Meanwhile, much of the Coke in the coolers is still silver from those ill advised polar bear cans, making it hard to separate the Coke from Diet. And Diet Sprite switched from silver to blue, meaning there are now multiple clear carbonated beverages in blue cans.


Now stopping at the cooler is a confusing affair full of squinting and generally shaking my fist at the Talking Rain cans. Entire meetings have been derailed by the discussion about the inappropriate nature of purple blue water.

So we’re a bit sheltered. But it’s a funny commentary on the crutches our brains require without knowing it. I’m looking forward to the day when blue water is blue, not purple or green. Of course, that’ll only last a week or so until the next round of strange self-advertising rolls out. Blue water should be blue. Green water should be green, but only on the outside of the can, or there’s obviously something gone terribly wrong. And no one cares about orange water.

(Some of the newly renovated buildings skip the can issue entirely, and feature those crazy robotic Coke machines that offer 100 combinations, or something. So they don’t have to worry about the extra cognitive burden of purple blue water… but they DO have to stand paralyzed by indecision in front of machines offering ONE HUNDRED DIFFERENT OPTIONS. So there’s that.)