Amazon: Droning Up The Wrong Tree

on Monday, Dec. 2nd

The following are the views of the author alone.

I was taking a pit stop from an 11-hour holiday drive when Twitter brought me the news of Amazon’s proposed Prime Air delivery system. Announced on no less than 60 Minutes, just in time for all the Cyber Monday hype a billionaire could dream of.

If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about then you are probably a web-spider, or a very lost grandmother-type looking for instructions on how to use a MetroCard in New York. I can’t help you there, I can barely get them to work without getting stuck in the gates myself.

If you need a reminder, here’s a little video that Amazon produced:

This is my own personal nightmare, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

Sure, everyone on Twitter was quick to make the Skynet jokes. I was among them. No use denying it. Yet my real fear in regards to what will most likely prove out to just be an elaborate holiday marketing stunt isn’t that we are seeding a robot revolution.

No, my fear is that Silicon Valley–as a cultural phenomenon–has finally become its own punchline. The best and brightest minds the nation can produce have for the past two decades either sold their soul to Wall Street or given the tech sector a shot.

While I historically have no love for Amazon, I recently became intrigued by the idea that maybe–just maybe–the model of commerce practiced by Bezos and company has less of an impact on the environment than the Big Box model it is gradually replacing. The Amazon model might destroy retail jobs, but perhaps it creates less waste than their brick-and-mortar competition when taken as a whole.

I was beginning to see that Amazon might be capable of doing some inadvertent social good.

Then Jeff Bezos drove a Blu-Ray carrying quadcopter right through that sentiment.

30-minutes or less is a great standard for take-out food, but it is a far cry from what we can label necessary. If anything the drive towards faster delivery is part of what author George Ritzer called the “irrationality of rationalization” in his book “The McDonaldization of Society” (1993). The short form: sometimes rational processes–like really efficient delivery systems–create irrational outcomes. For instance: culture-wide impatience brought on by the expectation that anything and everything should be available in 30 minutes or less.

The tools we use change who we are, and I’m not sure I like the vision of what Homo sapiens technologicus circa 2025 looks like from the vantage of 2013.

Then again, if our major cities flood thanks to climate change, we might need those delivery drones after all.

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)


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