Requiem for Dippin’ Dots

Dippin’ Dots isn’t dead. But it’s dying—the company filed for bankruptcy today in federal court. It’s a sad day not just for you and for me and for minor league concession stands. It’s a sad day for the future.

There’s still a more than decent chance that Dippin’ Dots come out of this bankruptcy filing okay; they have more assets than liabilities and sales are up. But the move forces our imaginations to conjure up a world without the chilly little nubbins. One that’s far worse off for it.

Your parents grew up in a world without Dippin’ Dots. And you may have, too, hard as it is to imagine; the company wasn’t founded until 1987, the year that microbiologist Curt Jones applied his use of cryogenic encapsulation to dessert, concocting perfect little spheres of bliss. Twenty-four years ago, Jones called his creation The Ice Cream of the Future. And in every way that matters, it still is.

Dippin’ Dots are delicious, yes, okay. But beyond just taste, they’re one of the most tangible symbols of progress in the last thirty years. Dippin’ Dots are everything you love about ice cream but without the slop, the bovine slobbering, the compulsion to eat faster before you get creamy melted muck all over your hand. They’re fastidious in the way our best visions of the future are fastidious, a pre-apocalyptic snack for a world in which our robot butlers haven’t yet turned on us.

There’s the old joke, or platitude maybe: How long until we acknowledge that if Dippin’ Dots had ever been the future, they’d be on every street corner by now? But that’s silly, especially if we believe in the future as aspirational, as the fulfillment of potential. Dippin’ Dots are a symbol of the future in the same way as anything that’s equal parts practical and exotic. Motorized fans. Dry-erase boards. Jeff Daniels. Touchstones, all, of a mode of living that we should strive for but won’t ever achieve. Glimpses of hover boards in our everyday lives.

Dippin’ Dots aren’t mainstream because the future isn’t mainstream. The future is a place where everything is magical but still works, somehow. Like flying cars, or laser guns. Or little pellets of ice cream that don’t melt.

If Dippin’ Dots goes under? Nothing tangible changes, not really. Instead of bumping into a Dippin’ Dots stand three times a year you’ll do it no times and not notice the difference. But what it says is: this one small corner of the future is no longer aspirational. It’s commoditized. Congealed. We’re not barreling towards a better life. We’re just slowly melting away.

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