According to Jeff Bezos, the future of online shipping will include lots and lots (and lots) of drones.
It’s hard to pin down the exact date Amazon started selling toilet paper, but it seems like an important transition. Jeff Bezos has always been open about the company’s founding, sprung form his days as an investment banker in 1994 when he came across a statistic showing how the Internet had been growing by 2300 percent a year. This stat left Bezos not with a new idea but a procreative yearning to see a part of himself swept into that avalanche of new growth reshaping the world (or the parts of it that mattered to investment bankers in the 1990s).
Bezos was never especially interested in books, but found them the safest good to focus on selling in his early years, cultivating a flattering illusion of access to the obscure wonders of intellect, enlightenment, and pleasure. It was easy to not notice the company’s larger plans of creating an architecture of convenience-driven dependencies.
On Sunday, Bezos revealed the company’s newest plan to launch an armada of delivery drones capable of carrying packages of up to five pounds for ten miles, making it theoretically possible to receive things any day of the week, and at all hours. The plan, which is still largely conceptual, would address the last mile problem for Amazon’s delivery system, in which the cost savings of shipping things in bulk are eroded by the expense of paying someone to carry each item to a specific location at the last leg of the journey. And for customers it would shorten the distance between impulse shopping and arrival. With the drone plan, the company’s continued growth rests on its ability to sell people things that are already easily accessible in most communities, and a swarm of non-human delivery agents is a crucial element in convincing those not already swayed by bulk shopping convenience to stay in their pajamas and just get a bottle of Windex air-lifted in.
Amazon has a track record of trying to bully the government, and its drone announcement came with an unmistakable stab at the FAA and its slow-moving approvals processes. “We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” In the meanwhile, the company can rely on its recent deal with the United States Postal Service to guarantee Sunday deliveries to further ensnare lazy avarice. “This is part of a continuing effort to make online shopping a normal, seven day-a-week, anytime-you-want experience,” Amazon’s Dave Clark told the Washington Post.
Amazon’s drone fantasy, whether it comes to pass or not, is another marker of how the company is concerned not with doing good for people in any thoughtful way. Instead it’s the byproduct of the company’s emerging architecture of dependency.
Drone delivery systems can be hugely beneficial, allowing regular access to food and medicine in remote areas or in times of crisis where more traditional ground transport is impossible. It is a perversion of the idea of progress to suggest that Amazon’s non-stop shopping complex, and its power to exploit government services for its own benefit, should be counted as a net positive. In stripping away the labor of seeking out superfluities, the company is draining some small part of their meaning, while dissolving the network of human interdependences on which that economic froth came from.
As a library of obscurities and forgotten peculiars, Amazon is an ideal outpost, but as a service provider for every conceivable human need it is a massless vortex that betrays its exploitive beginning, wanting only to take advantage of phenomena that was already happening and carve out as much of a share for itself as possible. Amazon’s drone fantasy, whether it comes to pass or not, is another marker of how the company is concerned not with doing good for people in any thoughtful way. Instead it’s the byproduct of the company’s emerging architecture of dependency.
I recently looked at my own Amazon shopping basket, a waiting list of postponed yearnings, things I thought I’ve wanted for months and months but haven’t actually wanted to buy or have. I haven’t bought a product through Amazon in maybe half a year, but it keeps a list of boring dreamwishes alive for me in a perpetual state of unarrival. There are things I want in the world that I don’t actually want to have. There is a song that I love so much I don’t want to own it. Over decades of listening to it, I have become attached to the ritual of working to find it again, to drag it back into the present through some nominal but ineradicable labor or twist of luck, turning the radio dials, pecking through Internet search results, or stumbling across a copy at a friend’s place where my nostalgia will be indulged for a short period
All the people and places and histories bound up in recording and preserving and retransmitting a thing form a mostly anonymous community but they have an innate value, something which Amazon’s commerce model erases. Instead, we are left surrounded by a never-ending wave of goods, the possession of which can never match the richness of simply wanting in the ambient ooze of human relationships we are all stuck in.
Michael Thomsen is Complex's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.
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