Something I realized yesterday, after bitching to myself about how we were ordering so much stuff from Amazon.
I mean, why do we do this when we’re well aware of what a disaster the company is for its workers? Because it’s easy, usually cheap, quick, the widest selection, free shipping if you’ve joined Prime (and why wouldn’t you?), competent, and predictable.
It’s made its founder, Jeff Bezos, one of the three or so richest people in the world (which does him little practical good and the world none at all, though I’m happy he shoved $100m off to Dolly Parton – wouldn’t you do that if you could?).
Do you member when Amazon started up in 1994 as the best way to round up all those wonderful books you wanted to read? Seemed (to me at least) like a literary godsend. Then it started adding consumables of an ever wider nature, until it reached the point of carrying anything in the world anyone in the world could possible want at any time in their life.
As Bezos morphed to being richer than Midas’s grandpa, he became, with good reason, the focus of many who rightly denounced the whole League of Corporate Sons of Bitches. Some (unlike Linda and I) stopped buying from Amazon.
That’s all to the good, but I’ve been niggled by a couple of facts that nearly everyone who talks about Bezos or Amazon in its current inhuman incarnation neglects to mention.
The first is what Bezos said, right at the beginning. The second is how he stuck to his guns on making that vision work, even as Amazon became the Evil Behemoth.
He decided, from the beginning, that the way to top the functional buyers’ market was to make his company the perfect customer provider. The customer would be top and only dog. Everything else took second place. He advised his early investors that this would delay their monetary returns, that the whole shebang had to be built up slowly and carefully without worrying about immediate gains.
That’s exactly how he did it in the early years, and it pissed those investors off mightily because they didn’t listen or believe or (being astute businessmen) understand. So they bitched that they weren’t getting their money back – until they did. In spades, as Amazon became the Godzilla of commerce we see today.
That’s point one. Point two is that Bezos’ customer first-and-always dogma still holds (even though he’s no longer CEO, “only” chairman), but now it’s the impetus behind the evil that infects its workers. The warehouse drudges and street drivers earn minimum and sub-minimum wage, have to piss in soda bottles (“good to the last drop”), and keel over from exhaustion because that keeps prices minimal, theoretically speeds delivery, and makes customers hysterically happy.
Maybe I don’t read the right articles and “opinion pieces,” but I don’t see these points discussed or even acknowledged. Abysmal worker conditions are railed against as though they are only a pro- or anti-union matter or an isolated human-welfare disaster – not how this approach arose as a rational extension of Amazon’s blueprint.
But that’s only one side of what I’m getting at, because –and again, I may have missed others making similar comparisons – this dubious ramble is about comparing the world’s two favorite super whipping-boys, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Musk is a wholesale goofball, which is the side of him I like. Look at that wide-mouthed smirk in any given picture. He sees it all as a game, a personal laugh-track to the world’s idiocy. And that could be pretty neat if he wasn’t somebody who could (and does) buy major companies with his pocket change.
His other side is a troll without apparent compassion who delights in firing enough people to fill Yankee Stadium.
On the plus side, he’s unlimbered Space X, now the leading private, extraterrestrial exploration outfit, and Neuralink, which is doing truly interesting work on merging the fragile human brain with AI intelligence (iffy at best, malevolent at worst, likely just kind of there in reality). He’s also sold a shitload of electric cars through Tesla – while giving both his workers and investors hives.
On the down side, he has shafted his workers (like Bezos), and seems intent on fucking Mars up the butt through terraforming while Earth dies.
Where I give him the most credit is that he seems intent on wrecking if not obliterating Twitter. I sincerely hope so. A lot of users swear by Twitter. Probable an equal number swear at Twitter. The way I see it, Twitter has allowed anyone, anywhere in the world, to become a recognized, revered, uninhibited asshole (one of the almost infinite number of reasons I’ve never joined Twitter – I’d rather remain my at-home, personal asshole self, thank you).
[Oh, did I tell you my idea for an alternative social media forum for sex workers? Twatter.]
But here’s the comparison I’m getting at (at last). Bezos went at Amazon with a laser-focused, upfront idea and stuck with it. Musk invades each operation with a funhouse slap of off-the-cuff explosions that depend on mood, time of day, and what he ate for breakfast.
Yet both approaches have led to “successful” business operations; personal profiles that captivate capitalistic proponents; adulation; and hatred.
I think their dichotomy tells us something important about human striving, the influence of individual personality, and the varied landscape of success.
Now, could you please tell me what that important something is?