Is Amazon More Addicting than Cocaine?
I love Amazon. But it’s becoming a guilty love, an addiction.
It began as a crush in 1995 when Amazon started selling books online. Then came the Kindle in 2007, and I found that I enjoyed reading books on it, although some of my peers refused to do so. I appreciated that you could order a free sample, read the beginning and then decide if you wanted to buy it. Ninety per cent of the time I did not.
Before Kindle, what I’d done was stand in the bookstore, turning pages, trying to see what books I wanted to read, then I’d buy four or five and never finish most of them.
In 1998 Amazon started selling music and videos, rapidly expanding to the point where, today, you can find anything, truly anything, for a low price, and you’ll receive it the next day.
I just bought a wetsuit, athroat spray that two local pharmacies didn’t have in stock, a child’s pony saddle, and an organic fungicide for house plants. I told my friend, Andy Weil, that without Amazon, I’d have had to go to four or five stores…
“What’s a store?” he said. “I haven’t been in one for two years. I’m a fellow Amazon addict.” Years ago, we’d heard that sugar was more addicting than cocaine. “Amazon is more addicting than either,” he said. “It’s too convenient.”
I’ll say. I had just ordered a shirt on sale from Eddie Bauer online, and was shocked when they added $9.99 for shipping, which wiped out most of the saving. And if I didn’t like the shirt, I’d have to pay to mail it back. With Amazon Prime, returns are free, and you don’t even have to box it, just drop it at Whole Foods and five minutes later, a credit is issued.
“Have you tried calling Amazon customer service lately?” Andy said.
“Yes. They answered quickly and resolved the problem, in my favor.”
And yet. And yet. Who pays for the convenience to us? Reports say that Amazon is a terrible place to work, especially in warehouses, where people on the margins of society work through the night at monotonous jobs, getting injured, and having no benefits. Even the company’s engineers describe ferocious pressure and 14-hour work days.
Amazon is fighting hard and dirty to keep unions out of its warehouses. It posts anti-union fliers in the bathrooms stalls, and offers unhappy workers $1000 to quit. (so they won’t be able to vote for the union) Struggles are going on in Iowa, New York, and Bessemer, Alabama, where entertainment and NFL stars are showing up to support union organizers. Even President Biden has spoken out about the right to form a union.
Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. According to Forbes.com, which posts his net worth in real time, it’s $180.6 billion at this writing. It goes up about one billion a day. Couldn’t he afford to pay those midnight toilers better than minimum wages and provide safe working conditions?
Before 2020, Bezos was not known for generosity. He didn’t make Forbes’ list of the 25 Americans who donated the most to charity in 2019. But the following year, 2020, he was number one on the list for donating $10 billion to establish the Bezos Earth Fund, which will invest in clean energy and combating climate change. Ten Billion. It’s hard to even grasp the number, but it’s only 5% of his net worth.
To Bezos’s credit, after purchasing the Washington Post, he transformed it from a local paper hemorrhaging money to a profitable, web-based, international news outlet, which carries the best political reporting of any news organization, even the New York Times. It also carries the most extensive, non-biased reporting of Amazon’s fight with unions.
So far, the Washington Post operates independently from Amazon, which keeps acquiring new companies at a ferocious pace. The roster includes, to name a few, Whole Foods, Audible, Diapers.com, IMDB, Kiva robotics, Teachstart, Shopbop, and Zappo’s (which originated free returns long before Amazon did).
Amazon owns hundreds of clothing brands, energy companies, engineering and financial services, entertainment companies, web services, photo storage… shall I continue?
It has its own fleet of cargo trucks and airplanes, called Prime Air, and just built its own airport in Germany to ship deliveries all over Europe.
Amazon is determined to conquer retail in New York, despite the fact that community activists prevented it from building a new headquarters in Queens. The company is on a frantic buying spree for warehouses, so it can deliver products to New Yorkers even faster. It now owns 12 warehouses in Manhattan, where no other competitor has a single one.
They’re even recruiting more than a thousand residents in Manhattan and Brooklyn who’ll be paid to use their apartments to store Amazon goods for distribution. (When I learned this, I thought about leasing my guest room to Amazon. For about two seconds)
Democrats on the House antitrust panel issued a report in 2020 calling for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to be broken up, “or we’re not going to have a democracy anymore.” But no legislation has been introduced.
Meanwhile, Amazon keeps growing new arms. It reminds me of the book, The Circle, by Dave Eggers, in which a tech company grows so big that it envelopes and keeps watch on everyone’s lives.
At this moment, Amazon’s expansion seems benign. Everyone likes it. Everyone’s using it.
Except… Except… we have absolutely no say about it. We don’t get to vote or influence policy and that’s okay because they’re keeping us happy. We don’t have to think about who suffers for our convenience, or how Amazon is using our personal data to manipulate us. On our screens, little images keep popping up of products that Amazon has determined will interest us, and before we know it, we’re ordering one.
Can you see that Amazon operates like a country within our country? A world within our world? It improves our lives, yes, but any entity so powerful, so dominant, so unchecked makes me uneasy.
Everyone depends on it. Everyone loves it. Until…. what?