Monday, September 4, 2017

Addressing the Amazon in the Room

What with Amazon now having acquired Whole Foods, and started their “makeover” of the company, it seems like a good time to post the following:

The Seven Key Reasons I Do NOT Shop at Amazon
The first reason is very simple: I just don’t shop much. I am not a big consumer. Other than grocery shopping, and looking for used DVDs at thrift stores, there’s not a whole lot that I buy with any regularity. I’ll buy clothes and shoes as needed, along with the occasional piece of furniture or other household wares. But, aside from that, as stated above, I’m not a big consumer. The concept of “recreational’ shopping is alien to me, and more than a little creepy.
I think my second reason is also fairly straightforward: I intensely dislike Amazon’s business practices. The way they have exerted pressure on “producers” like writers and publishers is shameful, and ultimately very destructive. (How many people can afford to be writers when the only one making money from publishing is Amazon?) The way they have used essentially their entire inventory as a loss-leader to undercut their competitors is also shameful and destructive. (Monopoly isn’t just a game to Amazon.) The deplorable working conditions that exist in Amazon’s distribution warehouses are yet another of many, many reasons to take a dim view of the way Amazon approaches business.
Aside from the above, I am also incredibly suspicious and sceptical of Amazon’s seeming desire to corner the market on essentially everything. Personally, I want to buy my groceries, shoes, DVDs and medicines at different places, from different people. This allows me to support my local economy, spread my spending around, and stay connected to my community. Mind you, I am very much an introvert, and value my time alone. But the lonely, atomized world Amazon is enabling – millions of people, cut off from their community and tied to their computer, just working and pushing buttons to shop – is nightmarish to me.
I am also extremely wary of the consumption-centric, convenience-worshiping ethos that Amazon represents and encourages. Amazon is impulse purchasing on steroids. Practically every material good you could ever want, all available from one source! Temptations abound, with items chosen to exploit your desires (which they know all about) placed ever so “conveniently” right in front of you. Under the guise of convenience - a dangerous word in many contexts - Amazon invites repeat customers to ignore how their personal information is being extracted, sold, and used to manipulate them. Amazon would like us all to forget that the more we shop online, the more our local businesses (the ones employing our friends and neighbors) struggle. And, of course, more than anything, Amazon wants people to focus on their promise of “convenience” rather than the looming threat of their corporate monopoly.
But a looming monopoly it is. Currently, right now, Amazon accounts for 43% of all internet retail sales in the United States. When you think of that in the context of the literally millions of online retail options available, you can see that, though 43% is not a majority share, it is a disproportionate share of the U.S. online economy. No one else even comes close, which puts Amazon in a strong position to dominate and, yes, monopolize internet retail. I do not like monopolies, and I will not support one. I value diversity, and choices, and I will exercise my pro-choice options as much as is possible.
Amazon is not only at the forefront of the information extraction economy, and all the exploitative darkness it embodies. They are also the “leader” in the dehumanizing of the workforce. By which I mean two things. One is, as mentioned above, their distribution centers are notoriously brutal places for people to work. The other is that Amazon is moving towards a dystopian, human-free workforce as quickly as they can. Their ideal business structure is one consisting of a handful of well-paid human executives, and a workforce made up of robots and drones. (One has to wonder about this workerless world Amazon is busy building: With all human jobs eliminated, where would their future customers get the money with which to buy things from Amazon?)
My seventh reason goes back to the start of it all – Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. To be blunt, I think the man is mad. No, really. In any other field (other than online retail) and at any other time (other than during the explosive growth of the internet) someone with his huge, world-altering “vision” would have been seen as a megalomaniacal madman. Hitler swallowed Poland, and was seen in most quarters as out of line and out of control. Bezos wants to swallow the whole world and is seen by many as a ground-breaker and innovator.
I could go on – and on – about reasons I don’t support or shop at Amazon. (Hypocrisy anyone? Amazon undercut and killed so many brick and mortar bookstores…To clear the way for Amazon opening brick and mortar bookstores. Or, how about Amazon’s cloud services being used to help enable some of the worst practices of the C.I.A.?) But I think these will suffice for now.
In the best of all possible worlds, from my perspective, there is still a place for Amazon – a smaller, more focused, more ethical Amazon. But that’s not the one we have, nor is it likely to transition to that. So, the best that I can hope for is that each day a few more people will think about what they are doing, and what they are enabling, by shopping at Amazon, and will simply take their business elsewhere.