You can buy anything online. That is an equally completely terrifying and ridiculously convenient revelation.
Last week, I bought a single light bulb on the Internet. It was $6.49. It arrived at my doorstep less than 36 hours later in a box much larger than a single light bulb should come in. It was put together with the familiar black tape with blue trim and the words "Amazon Prime" across it.
Amazon: It is to 2014 as Sears was to the '60s and what discount retailer chains was to the aughts. Anything that can be purchased with United States currency can be bought on Amazon: sporting goods, shoes, water bottles, dildos, condoms, knives, Dramamine, vitamins or a Rolex. Just think about that for a moment. The interface and buying process for copping a plastic french press is identical to copping an $8,000 watch.
While Amazon Prime markets itself as an annual commitment with freedom to opt in and out of your contract whenever you please, it feels largely like a life sentence. Because when you can get the same exact shampoo and conditioner as you can in a brick and mortar store, for the same price and a lot of times cheaper, why on Earth would you ever go back? Why would you ever go back to calling a restaurant and physically picking up your food? Why would you ever go back to meeting someone in a bar when you can meet them through a pre-screened algorithm? Why would you ever go the store to buy socks, when you can get them shipped to your front door for free?
A Forbes article entitled "Is Amazon Prime Suffering From It’s Own Success?" laments that the service is actually losing money because there's simply no way to account for each individual order as the flat annual rate covers free two-day shipping on everything from dog food to, well, the aforementinoed individual light bulb. As anyone who has ever ordered any items from Amazon Prime can attest to, the boxes are always much larger than the item. When you go to sleep tonight, just think of all of the semis and vans filled to the brim with trite items being shipped cross country for your consuming convenience. There is perhaps no more poignant image of capitalistic waste than overnighting a shower curtain to someone who lives within a walking mile of Bed, Bath and Beyond.
There's something inherently strange about buying all your stuff through a single website on the Internet like a giant vending machine for every single item ever sold on the planet. You find what you want, put in some coins, press a couple of buttons and it dispenses your desired item. But, instead of a soda or a bag of SunChips, you can get an Eames chair and a double pack of Omega-3 capsules, all without ever interacting with another human being.
I'm equally grateful to participate in modern commerce and equally as confused by its estrangement.
Even though there are literally dozens of hands that went into acquiring, packaging, delivering and signing for your package, it's still an almost innately solitary experience. We open boxes with rigor and excitement even when we know exactly what the contents are therein. We've been conditioned since birth that gifts and surprises come wrapped up. The act of uncovering and unwrapping something sometimes becomes more important than the actual gifts themselves.
After twenty or so years of receiving gifts from people, at some point we get enough money to buy our own shit. What we trade for sentimentality we get back in practicality. Instead of really bad Old Navy sweaters your grandma personally spent an hour picking out, you get the John Elliott pullover you've been eyeing since the lookbook preview. Instead of a care package that my mom sent me in college, I buy generic nasal corticosteroids, an auto-fill recurring shipment I get monthly.
The Amazon box comes wrapped up like a birthday gift waiting to be ripped open. You take a box cutter and carefully slice the tape off the seams—emphasis on the carefully. What if you need to return it? You put the air pillows to the side, or, if you're a child like I am, you flatten them out and stab them with the same knife you used to open the box. Then, you find the item. And have it. A couple pumps of dopamine to the dome and that's that.
The power rankings of the most banal things to talk about are:
1. The dream you had last night.
2. A drunken escapade where the listening party wasn't present.
3. How your sports team is cursed.
4. What you bought on Amazon.
As we would never talk about a routine trip to Target, why do we feel so inclined to tell people about our Amazon purchases? What sort of validation can we possibly hope to garner after snagging a ten pack of Sharpies and a new pair of earbuds? Purchasing goods is always a sort of social experience. Whether you're bartering or negotiating the terms of exchange, trading shit has been always been at the heart of our interactions with strangers since one tribe swapped something with another. It has always given us an excuse to drum up conversation. Lonely? Go to a bar and buy a beer—vapid conversation with the bartender complete with ever purchase. So, it's a strange time in the world when something as trivial as buying Brita water filters can feel so goddamn alienating. I'm equally grateful to participate in modern commerce and equally as confused by its estrangement.
The paradox of buying shit in 2014 is wanting to support local business, but being able to buy toilet paper when you're sitting on the fucking toilet. It's the paradox of wanting to rely on word of mouth, but only if it's read through anonymous reviews behind a glass screen. It's wanting to be given a gift, but only if you pick it out yourself. It's wanting to buy things, but only if you don't actually have to physically buy it from someone.
Nickolaus Sugai is an OG Amazon Prime member. Follow him on Twitter here.