If you haven’t read this piece by George Packer on Amazon, then you should probably quit playing Flappy Bird for 20 minutes and do so. The business is a fascinating one, summed up in the first paragraph alone:
Amazon is a global superstore, like Walmart. It’s also a hardware manufacturer, like Apple, and a utility, like Con Edison, and a video distributor, like Netflix, and a book publisher, like Random House, and a production studio, like Paramount, and a literary magazine, like The Paris Review, and a grocery deliverer, like FreshDirect, and someday it might be a package service, like U.P.S. Its founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also owns a major newspaper, the Washington Post. All these streams and tributaries make Amazon something radically new in the history of American business. Sam Walton wanted merely to be the world’s biggest retailer. After Apple launched the iPod, Steve Jobs didn’t sign up pop stars for recording contracts. A.T. & T. doesn’t build transmission towers and rent them to smaller phone companies, the way Amazon Web Services provides server infrastructure for startups (not to mention the C.I.A.). Amazon’s identity and goals are never clear and always fluid, which makes the company destabilizing and intimidating.
It is a comprehensive read on its history and development to the point it’s at today, and makes certain points that I agree with, particularly on the use of data to assume the shape of public demand, in order to be the one positioned to supply it almost immediately.
“Jeff is trying to create a machine that assumes the shape of public demand,” Tim Appelo, the former entertainment editor, said. “He resembles a very, very smart shmoo—he only wants to serve, to make you happy.” Appelo was referring to Al Capp’s smiling blob of a cartoon character, which happily provides people with whatever they need: milk, eggs, butter, even its own tasty self. With Amazon’s patented 1-Click shopping, which already knows your address and credit-card information, there’s just you and the buy button; transactions are as quick and thoughtless as scratching an itch. “It’s sort of a masturbatory culture,” the marketing executive said. If you pay seventy-nine dollars annually to become an Amazon Prime member, a box with the Amazon smile appears at your door two days after you click, with free shipping. Amazon’s next frontier is same-day delivery: first in certain American cities, then throughout the U.S., then the world.
The company is further along than anyone else in its monstrous amalgamation of the online and offline worlds, and a manifestation of Bezos’ view on how the world should and will be.
Bezos also argues that Amazon’s role is simply to usher in inevitable change. After giving “60 Minutes” a first glimpse of Amazon drone delivery, Bezos told Charlie Rose, “Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.”
Of course, this is a sleigh of hand – for Bezos, Amazon is the future. And Amazon is a microcosm (if you can call Amazon micro) of the world to come. Public demand is a signal waiting in the data collected. A middle class job is one that robots can’t perform, yet. Consumers will not like this ill-treatment of workers, yet its low prices will be what they can afford. More and more things will be bought online and delivered, and this will free us and give us more time to do… what? Amazon or Netflix or Apple will probably make an ad telling me the time is for heartwarming moments with the family.
I’m scared and in awe of what is to come.