Zia Hassan

Functional Lemons

I was at a restaurant recently with a few friends, and I ordered a Diet Coke. It came in a glass with a lemon wedge on top.

“I love when my Diet Coke comes with a lemon wedge,” I said. “I think it’s because you get to smell the fresh acidity of the lemon scent as you sip.”

“So why do regular cokes never come with lemons?” my friend asked.

That’s a good question, and from what we could remember it seemed to be true. Diet cokes seem to come with lemon, while regular cokes just come in the glass without any kind of garnish. We hypothesized for a while about why this might be. Perhaps the taste of the sugar in regular coke was sweet enough that the lemon wasn’t required. Maybe the Diet Coke is slightly more bitter and therefore the acidity provides a more pleasant drinking experience.

As it turns out, diet cokes come with lemon wedges because for waiters, that’s how they can tell when a drink is diet vs. regular. So the lemon is functional, but not for the customer. Seems obvious in retrospect.

It makes me wonder how many things I encounter in daily life are invisible indicators. Invisible because they are for someone other than me, even though they exist in plain sight (like the lemon).

For example, I was in a school yesterday that had beautiful studio lighting in the ceiling, and a nice wooden floor, with a clean open concept. I mentioned this to the CTO of the school, and he told me that they believe that learning is greatly enhanced by the attention to details. Another silent signal that, like the lemon, is obvious if you’re looking for it, and invisible if you aren’t.