Escaping the Amazon Event Horizon
Remember a time before it was possible to have the passing desire to own something, and then within five seconds, find the cheapest version of that thing, order it and have it in your hands less than 48 hours later? Me either. Amazon has revolutionized the way we live. I ordered a shower curtain while I wrote this.
But here’s my case for why it’s worth it to conjure a teaspoon of awareness about our mindless shopping habits and ponder whether the companies we give our money to are promoting our values.
Recently, I made a list of every company I regularly give money to. I learned that I buy so many products and support so many companies, it is almost inconceivable. Many of those products are either harmful to my family’s health, harmful to the planet, or manufactured by Evil Corporations (EC’s). In an age when our election booth may as well have a giant “out of order” sign hanging on the door, voting with my wallet is important to me, as sad and sorry a substitute for democracy as that is. It’s not good enough, but it is still worth doing.
This is why I resolved to clean up my Consumer Life List little by little, starting with the biggest things first.
It was immediately clear that the starting point had to be Amazon, the black hole of shopping.
Look, I know… Amazon is great. It’s convenient! It’s time-saving! It’s money-saving! It’s also more than a little disturbing on a certain level. Remember in Looney Tune cartoons how everything came from Acme? This is literally about to be our society. No, I am not going to abstain completely from dancing with my dark lover. But when Amazon has engineered shopping to be as automatic, effortless and thoughtless as breathing, some intentionality must brought into the picture.
Is Amazon inherently worse than any other retailer?
I have no idea. Jeff Bezos seems like a lousy guy and it’s pretty well established that some Amazon employees work in the seventh circle of hell. But I do not need a list of every dark deed to know that Amazon grows bigger and more powerful each day. And I’m not just talking about Whole Foods, which, in its infinite karmic poverty, probably deserves to be eaten by Amazon. I just have an ingrained distrust for companies that are as big and influential as Amazon. Few have proven themselves undeserving of my disdain.
EC’s put small companies out of business. They blossom into monopolies and screw over consumers. They take advantage of their most vulnerable employees. They trash the planet. They bribe the government to pass laws they like. This bugs me most of all. Corporations are not people and there is no end to the damage done by legal decisions that have dishonored that fundamental truth.
Every time I hit “place order” on Amazon, I feel a twinge of guilt.
I know I’m not the only one. One of my favorite blogs was literally inspired by a regrettable trail of Amazon purchases. When I shop at Amazon, I’m choosing to support a world dominating EC, instead of, say, a store that I’d like to keep around in my neighborhood.
A great outdoor shop here closed recently. Everyone wailed in mutual rage over the insane rents, but the owners said that what really drove them out of business was the online competition. I reflected sheepishly on the his and hers day packs I bought on Amazon over the last year.
Sainted local mom and pops aside, sometimes it would be a relief to even just give money to … a slightly less enormous, slightly less evil EC.
But I don’t want to be a chump, either!
Why should I pay $21 for a book that I can get for $15 on Amazon? In what way is wasting money, when you don’t have money to spare, a smart or noble deed? Many people have no choice but to go for the absolute cheapest option. I begrudge them nothing. Others tread this line when they decide to pay more for, say, organic milk, but then refuse to buy some other more expensive thing that they deem to be a rip off. No one wants to be taken advantage of. It gets really dicey when those with the privilege to do so start worrying about the inherent injustices perpetrated against the human and environmental casualties of the “cheapest possible goods” supply chain.
I don’t fool myself to think that every single one of the millions of purchases I make can be the optimal ethical choice. But if I make an effort, I can cut down on the money I send to Amazon and other EC’s. Who knows, maybe we can even forestall the time before we have to endure the Amazon Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Amazon Central Park and the Amazon Nobel Prize. I don’t want to live to see Amazon Prime Day become a national holiday.
My quest begins with the incredible record that is my Amazon order history.
I looked back to get a sense of what kinds of purchases I mostly depend on Amazon for. My trip down memory lane resulted in me re-ordering a shower curtain, mid-sentence. I have bought this shower curtain about six times now. Many a shower curtain has failed to meet my specifications of being transparent, PVC free, affordable and aesthetically pleasing. For me, this is peak shower curtain. And the place I get it is Amazon.
Sometimes you just need exactly what you need and Amazon is the cheapest and fastest way to get it without jumping through hoops. In those instances, a reasonable person would have to agree, there is no shame in saving money and time. Plus, buying my shower curtain on Amazon means buying the one thing I need. Try walking into Target for a shower curtain and coming out with nothing else.
But Amazon gets its strength from propagating the myth that it is always the fastest and cheapest option.
It is not. I needed (using the term “needed” loosely here) a box of black pencils recently. I thoughtlessly ordered them on Amazon. Like magic, they arrived two days later. They were unexceptional in every way. I looked at my order – I spent almost $14 on a box of pencils. I was obviously in an Amazon trance when this transaction took place. In the Amazon cortex of the brain, $14 is a great price for an item rush shipped to your home, whatever it may be.
One day we’ll all be implanted with little chips so that we can just visualize an item and, before we know it, a drone is dropping it on our head before we can think it through any further. OK, calm down Grandma!, you say. But our grandparents, in their wildest dreams, could not have imagined this either.
But back to shopping, pre-dystopia style.
I have a few odds and ends in my Amazon order history, but mainly, there are just a handful of categories that account for the vast majority of my purchases. They are, in this order: books, toys and art supplies, gifts, home and garden supplies and pet supplies. Even if I look only at these categories, at only this one retailer, I will make a dent in my EC expenditure.
The good news is that I can identify retail alternatives as well as alternate strategies for every one of these categories. Stay tuned for “part two” — my suggestions on how to hide from Amazon once in a while. Just for fun. While we still have a few other options to choose from.
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