Mark Hurrell.


Fully-automated monopoly capitalism

11 September 2018

Amazon makes me very uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong – I buy stuff on it all the time – but I don’t like it. It destroys economies and treats its own workers horribly. Amazon is one of those bad companies that we depend on, like Tesco. But unlike Tesco, there seems to be a constant stream of essays and talks and perceived wisdom that we should all be more like Amazon. People unquestioningly and eagerly welcome more of Amazon into their lives.

Drew Austin wrote an article about it which started doing the rounds last night. I’ve read it a few times now, and you might find it interesting too.

Years ago, Amazon's 1-click purchasing option seemed to remove all remaining friction from online shopping, but there was still a long way to go. The company's more recent initiatives respond to deeper psychological friction that might prevent us from purchasing a product using Amazon's platform. In a reprise of what happened a century ago, manufacturing and distribution have again progressed to a point where the customer is the greatest constraint on commerce. A single-click purchase still requires opening Amazon's website or app, but people spend plenty of time away from their device screens. The Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices, placed throughout our homes like furniture, connect more directly to our supposedly subconscious impulses by letting us simply speak our desires and translating those words into Amazon orders. We might change our minds by the time we get around to opening an app, after all.

Amazon Prime complements this arrangement, letting us become formal members of the Amazon ecosystem and feel like we're always already inside the Everything Store. The company's physical retail stores – Amazon Go, Amazon Books, and now Whole Foods – extend that territory to the urban space that Amazon had previously bypassed. And home technologies like Amazon Key reopen the home at the conclusion of the order, inviting the company's delivery workers to let themselves in and drop off our merchandise.

Writer Matthew Stewart, describing the urbanist vision revealed through Amazon's patent filings, characterized its strategy as 'a colonization of everyday experience; a concerted effort to control an all encompassing infrastructure of home, office and retail automation, one in which the city becomes a giant fulfillment center, and humans mere inventory pickers.' More than removing friction from its user experience, Amazon wants to be our environment.

This returns us to the definition of user. A user isn't just an evolved customer but a qualitative transformation of that role: one who occupies a system and creates value for the system's owner by merely being there, just as Google and Facebook's users generate valuable data by partaking of their services. Those platforms, for all their seeming omnipresence, haven't figured out how to expand beyond their digital containers. This is Amazon's ambitious vision: The world is its platform, and instead of being customers, we will just become users whether we are looking at screens or not.

Drew Austin, The Constant Consumer on Real Life Magazine

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