It’s easy to jump on the Amazon-bashing bandwagon, but knocking Jeff Bezos won’t restore our culture nor rebuild the high street
Attacking Amazon has become something of a trend these days, but isn’t an attack on Amazon simply an attack on human nature and our desire for ease and convenience?
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a funny-looking bloke, if you ask me. He could be an alien. Maybe he is an alien. He is, after all, super-keen on building rockets to reach outer space. Maybe, just like E.T., all he really wants is to go home.
Alien or not, though, the needs he helps fulfil are most definitely human. Bezos had a hunch that people would buy pretty much anything online and, boy, was he right. The company he created in his garage near Seattle in 1994 is now worth almost $1,700 billion.
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That’s because money flows digitally into Amazon’s coffers at about the same rate water flows down the mighty river from whence it took its name. Jeff Bezos himself is the richest guy on the planet, worth around $177 billion.
In a year of lockdown, that flow has been more like a flood, as we couldn’t just pop down to the shops even if we’d wanted to, on account of them being closed and our not being allowed out of our homes except on essential business anyway. Amazon’s takings rose 35% in the first nine months of 2020, while those of small businesses dropped by 12%.
Amazon started out selling books online and then quickly expanded to include electronic goods, video games, toys and clothes. Now you can get pretty much anything you can think of on there. Click, click, click and not very long after, there’s a ring on the doorbell and a mask-wearing delivery driver presents you with a package. Awesome!
Except no. Not awesome. Amazon is evil. And Bezos isn’t just an alien, he’s also the devil incarnate. Or that’s the way the current narrative goes. Take this handful of recent stories as a test of the temperature in those Amazon waters.
Only today, the Guardian (of course) used the word ‘libidinal’ in a piece about one of the company’s warehouses. The flow of goods in and out of the building, you see, is pegged to the rhythms of human desire: its frustration and its subsequent release. The argument, then, is essentially that Amazon offers instant gratification, which equals bad.
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Another Guardian writer announced a couple of weeks ago that she was quitting Amazon Prime, the paid-for service that offers perks such as free delivery. It seems the breaking point came when she read that, sometimes, drivers had to pee in bottles because they just couldn’t stop for relief.
She does have a point. Some of the stories about how Amazon treats its workers are truly shameful, and it sounds like a horrendous place to work. Bezos seems to have the mindset of a 19th-century mill owner in a northern English town. He could slip easily into a Dickens novel. Though he hasn’t – at least not yet – sent children up chimneys with a brush to give them a clean. That’s probably illegal, though, these days.
The New York Post, owned by arch-capitalist Rupert Murdoch, also waded in at the weekend, making the same point that most of these articles make: that Amazon is killing the high street and people don’t frequent their local shops anymore. That’s a bit rich, really, coming from the US, given that Americans invented the shopping mall. Those malls swallowed most small stores a generation ago.
Nonetheless, aside from Amazon’s appalling reputation as an employer and Bezos’ vast wealth, aren’t most of these stories simply missing the point?
Amazon and all the other sites like it offer choice. Sometimes, I actually do go for a stroll past my local shops, but I rarely find anything I want or like. It’s also wise, before you shell out your hard-earned dollars, pounds, rubles or euros on a product, to pop home and check on Amazon, where it might well be cheaper, especially if you don’t have to pay the postage. It’s a simple fact that sometimes the stuff in the corner shop is lower-quality and higher-priced. This mythical shopping paradise we so often read about, it never even existed.
And as Alien Jeff realised back in 1994: human beings, they’re lazy creatures. We take the path of least resistance. If we can scan a few photos and a description on a web page and click a button, then we’ll push that button. Click click click.
And it’s not just shopping. Take modern dating – a new lover is just a swipe away on Tinder or Bumble and endless other dating apps. Holidays too – when was the last time you actually sat down in a travel agency and booked a trip? And what about the news – when did you last go out to buy an actual newspaper? Plus, newspapers don’t update themselves every few minutes, meaning any ‘breaking story’ is usually old news by today’s standards.
All these things moved online because it’s easier and there are advantages. If people didn’t agree, then businesses such as Amazon would soon have fallen away. The internet changed everything, so, of course it changed shopping.
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It’s too easy and too obvious to attack Amazon for its very existence. Attacking Amazon is an attack on the internet. It’s also an attack on basic human nature. Plus, if you’re sitting at your computer or phone ordering stuff you don’t need nor particularly even want, is that Amazon’s fault?
Bezos is only gonna get richer. Amazon is only gonna get bigger. That’s just the way it’s sure to be. Even if Bezos does manage to build a rocket to take him home.
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