So We Won’t

April 15, 2014 § 31 Comments

Thirsty

Thirsty

We’ve given up most of our magazine subscriptions over the years and frankly not missed them much. Well, maybe we’ve missed some of them a little, which explains why I asked my parents to save their back issues of the New Yorker for us. This has the unanticipated fringe benefit of exposing my father’s fondness for the caption contest; in the back of the handed-down issues, we find his half-baked ideas scrawled across the bottom of the page.

Anyway. One of the issues we were recently bequeathed sported a rather illuminating article about Amazon (the online retailer, not the rainforest) and Jeff Bezos’s relentless quest to essentially destroy Main St America. That’s not the explicitly stated objective, of course, but if his goals are realized, there can be no other effective outcome.

The author of the story makes a very salient point: While WalMart is the target of much retail anguish in this country, Amazon gets off largely scot-free, in no small part because it’s not nearly as visible as WalMart. But of course it’s doing at least as much damage, and perhaps even more, particularly when one considers the massive amount of data Amazon collects about its customers. If the article is to be believed, Amazon will soon know what you need (or more realistically, what you want) before you know it. It will then dispatch a drone from its private fleet to deliver your parcel. Even if the drone idea never comes to pass, the extent to which Bezos obsesses over personal data is quite alarming.

We’ve never shopped at WalMart; I can honestly say we’ve never even been tempted. My limited experience with big box stores is that they smell weird, induce tremendous amounts of stress via sensory overload, and tend to be full of a whole bunch of crap I’m better off not owning. But we have shopped on Amazon, having fallen prey to its lack of visibility and our own craven desire for convenience.  Never for books (or at least never for new books; I must confess to purchasing used books via Amazon), but certainly for the mercantile minutia of modern American life: Printer ink. Photo paper. An extra battery for Penny’s camera. Etc, etc, etc. And probably more etc. I wouldn’t call us frequent Amazonians, but I bet that over the past handful of years, we’ve bought something from Amazon an average of once per month.

I got to think about all this today after Jimmy called to see if we wanted a tractor bucket full of organic grain for our pigs. He’d cleaned out his silo, and he was just about to dump the cleanings, when it occurred to him that perhaps we could make use of the grain. Hell yeah, says I, because as anyone who’s purchased organic animal feed knows, they don’t exactly give that stuff away (though I bet I could find a good deal on Ama… ah, never mind). So a few minutes later, he rolled down the drive in his John Deere and we dumped the grain from the loader bucket of his tractor into ours, and then I spent a dozen or so minutes shoveling it into buckets for storage. I didn’t weigh it, but it had to’ve been a couple hundred pounds.

I guess I can’t tell you the exact connection between Amazon and my exchange with Jimmy, which was nothing more than one of the small, frequent kindnesses that transpires in rural communities every minute of every day. Ah, but wait: That’s it, right there. That’s the connection. Because the world I wish to inhabit is the one that’s defined by those small kindness, where the feed for our pigs is delivered by a neighbor and we chat for a few minutes in the driveway just as it’s starting to spit rain and then he’s gone again, off to make some syrup because the sap ran something wicked last night and it’s shaping up to be a decent season, after all.  The world I wish to inhabit is one where the world’s largest online retailer doesn’t know a damn thing about me and my shopping habits, and furthermore is not scheming to launch a fleet of package delivery drones into the air above my head.

The world I wish to inhabit is one in which we don’t shop on Amazon anymore. So we won’t.

 

 

§ 31 Responses to So We Won’t

  • Eumaeus says:

    Yeah, you know those taps I was asking you about, of course, I looked on Amazon. And I’m glad you didn’t say that you’d whittled yours out of elderberry but gotten them mainly from neighbors and friends. You’ll be the impetus for my asking down the road if they’ve got any they want to give me or sell me. I know for a fact that their sugaring days are done.

    But you know, it is a major issue – THIS WANTING TO BE INDEPENDENT and CONQUER THE WORLD with your laces or bootstraps or whatever. You talk about it in Saved a lot but….

    Anyway, it is a good reminder. That we have to cultivate this stuff.
    Cultivate community, just like anything else. Good post.

    And maybe you saw the drone video a while back that amazon put out, or were they delivering a pizza, or wait, maybe they were tazeing people with drones… anyway if there is something about drones then there is a video about it.

    A crazy world
    .

  • Eumaeus says:

    And how many taps do you have on that fenceline monster, surely not just one?

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    I’ve had a couple of unpleasant dealings with Amazon and unsubscribed to their emails just recently. They’re gaining way too much power in the marketplace which is always dangerous. And the drone idea is dangerous too in my humble opinion, dangerous to humans, and especially to flying animals, i.e., birds, butterflies and other insects of which I am very fond. Perhaps Mr. Bezos spends too much time indoors in his office, I don’t know.

  • Any bookseller can order a book for you if it’s in print. They don’t charge extra for this service, for them it’s a guaranteed sale (as long as you’re not annoying and change your mind when it arrives, leaving them with a book no one else in town wants). It costs the same as if you wandered into the store, found the right book on the shelf and bought it then and there. The dollars go where they should – the author, the publisher, the bookstore – in your community. Does it cost more? Probably more than Amazon, but it’s like buying from the local farm market instead of a superstore – again your dollar is going where it should. If money is tight, don’t buy books, borrow them from the library, or at the very least, test drive them there before buying so you don’t waste the money on “cheap” books from Amazon that you later don’t want.

  • Doug W. says:

    Maybe I am spending too much time on peak oil sites, but I am increasingly looking at things through the prism of a post-carbon mind set, and much of what is going on in the world right now seems increasingly unsustainable. The large scale,the capital-intensive, and the debt-ridden are particularly vulnerable. If i may, I would like to connect the dots on Amazon.com (which chugs along and never is in the black), Ben’s recent magazine article about the hardworking young couple, and yesterday’s post about the 66,000 tap sugaring operation. Amazon.com doesn’t show a profit. I once ordered 12 LED light bulbs. They came from four different locations via 3 different carriers. How do you ever make money or stay in business doing THAT? I appreciated the story of the hardworking young couple, and admire their work ethic. But I was left with the distinct impression that they had a pile of debt, and in another downturn could end up with nothing to show for all their hard work. And, as for yesterday’s story about the large sugaring operation, it has to be capital intensive,and hard to do without a lot of debt. It echoes the dairy industry–“Get big or get out” And if you owe the bank, just who you are you are working for anyway.? Better to have some source of income and live in a household economy, where production is to meet your own needs. Rather than produce a surplus to sell, stop when you have enough and move on to produce something else for your own use. It seems like you have right-sized your own sugaring operation.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I, on the other hand, tend to only buy books on Amazon; I don’t shop for anything else there. I’d much prefer to get them at a local bookshop, but…we don’t have one. The closest thing to it is Barnes and Noble out at the mall, which is a long drive and basically just a store front for another on-line retailer, in my opinion. If someone would open up a nice little bookstore on Main St. I would be thrilled. I tried to talk my husband into when he was job hunting last Spring, but he’s more of a realist than I am – the truth is, the Main St. businesses don’t tend to do great around here. Although the yarn shop seems to keep up a steady stream of customers. Anyone interested in opening a bookstore? I can guarantee at least ONE loyal customer!!

  • Kath says:

    I have to say this which popped into my head while reading – given the choice of the 2 devils – Walmart or Amazon – I’d have to prefer Amazon. Now I probably shop there less than once a month, but a website has much less concrete than a Walmart.

  • Julia says:

    I really want to not shop on Amazon anymore, or any other big box retailer, but sometimes the finances of the moment necessitate it, ya know? I get my kindle textbooks there, saving me about $300 per term. Heck, I even bought one of your books for kindle there. On the other hand, I do my level best to shop as small and as local as possible. Fresh produce from the health food store and the farmers market, animal feed from the local feed store, yarn and fabric from the local shop and independent designers (thanks etsy!), and used books from the local bookstore. I guess what I’m saying is, life is all compromise, but what should we not compromise on?

  • It was when I lived in what was in some small circles referred to as the “radical vegetarian” coop in college that I realized just how difficult it would be to really live outside of the mainstream. I tend to give my choices pretty thorough consideration and I eventually realized that I didn’t have it in me. It most likely boiled down to my passion for working with the human body and my ambitions. City life was the way to get the knowledge I needed to fulfill my desires and while I certainly do have my fair share of hippy tendencies, I have always been a city mouse. And then I married a tech geek. So while I commend your choices, I’m going to have to cheer you on while living a pretty different lifestyle that involves buying legos and borax (among other things) on amazon. That’s precisely why I like sharing ideas. While we have great differences, we also have many similarities. And I think that we are all trying to make things a little better. I put a lot of stock in that intention because I do think that we each in our own way and collectively we are advancing even when it seems like we’re going backwards.

  • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Just came in from a (rainy) walk to the mailbox…with my package of two books and magnifying lens ordered last Friday from Amazon.

    I have known in the back of my mind that something so good (convenient) has probably got a pretty big downside to it. But, like much of America, I wanted to stay ignorant…too late now, thanks to this post.

    Amazon certainly has its hooks in me. My husband bought me a Kindle two years ago and I have seen how much my book-spending habit has increased with the amazing conveniences of Amazon shopping – it’s just “One Click” shopping! And yes, Amazon knows me all too well,always ready to make suggestions for my next purchase or to encourage me to “get a little something for yourself”.

    Now that we have moved to a new area – one that does understand the idea of LOCAL, we have many small local bookstores to shop at. I will be learning to delay my need for instant gratification and shop more locally.

  • Ellen says:

    I read that article and thought it was very thought-provoking. We have a small local bookstore and I’m trying to have them order more books for me when I’m buying rather than using the library. They usually have them in 2 days and it’s a nice walk down to get them.

  • Leslie shiner says:

    I don’t like to shop. Stores are full of crap and you can’t find what you want without driving to several. Amazon-
    Click click done. I live in a city with no retail (dollar general, bottom dollar food, bodegas) but don’t want to drive out to the suburbs. Love amazon. Still use farmers market, butcher, local winery, etc. We do the occasional trip to the barnes and noble at an “upscale” shopping mall with piped in music on the fake Main Street in what use to be a corn field-which beats the one at the “life style” center at our other mall.
    Daughter worked for Amazon and like the way they promoted young people regardless of piercings, tattoos and such but based on merit. Other parts of the warehouse were a horror. Nothing’s perfect, we all make our choices based on our situation.

  • “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

    emerson 1840s

  • Jessica says:

    Love that Emerson quote…

    On another note, if you want to hear what life is like inside the warehouses ( in this Radiolab podcast) of the Amazon Fulfillment Centers, listen to January 28th, 2014, “Shorts: Brown Box.”

    No OSHA laws, walking 12 miles per day, lack of organization, timers beeping at you to walk/work faster, 10.5 hour days, picking 170 items per hour, and bathroom breaks hurt your achievement “numbers” – oh, and forget missing work upon the birth of your child because you will lose your job. Mean is how the girl describes the conditions. It’s incredibly eye-opening, especially when you learn the top two things people buy in our country. It’s worth a listen.

    Living in rural Vermont, I understand the need for Main Street, but it is vanishing before my eyes. Our local bookstore is owned by someone who is independently wealthy, understands how important a local bookstore is for community ties, but she is not profiting from the business. Luckily, she doesn’t have to because if she did, driving 35 minutes each way to a bookstore would be my only option. How sustainable is that?

  • CJ says:

    I personally can’t see the drones making it out of the city, but I’m looking forward to it they do. It would be like free skeet with a boxed reward for your accuracy. “Honey, get the shotgun, the neighbors ordered from Amazon again”.

    Drone trapping could be a fun rural hobby.

  • ncfarmchick says:

    You really got me thinking again, Ben. I shop on Amazon about once a month primarily because, as Leslie stated above, I don’t like to shop. Or, more accurately, I don’t like shopping the way it has evolved in the last 15 years or so (the big box, anonymous, over-stimulating experience.) Farmer’s markets, co-ops, thrift shops, independent stores – I’m all about that. Shopping is also a bit challenging with two very young children though I still do it as needed just differently than before I became a parent (one or two stores in a single trip, not several, etc.) So, online shopping fulfills a few needs for me in this season of life – I can do it at night when my children are asleep so they are not exposed to the shopping experience, I save money on both the items purchased and on gas, I save time, I can limit my own exposure as I can search for what I need to purchase and ignore all the other billions of items available, and (as far as Amazon is concerned) I make one large order per month which makes me feel like I am having less of an environmental impact from shipping (though I may be fooling myself with this one.) Though we try to focus our energies on producing and limiting our consumption, there are just some things we must buy and that fact puts me in an uneasy position as there seems to be no “perfect” choice that satisfies all my ideals. I’d like to think that Amazon may be the lesser of some of the other evils out there but again, I am be fooling myself on that one.
    When I have an experience such as you mention here – especially a barter or swap with a neighbor or friend where no money changes hands – I often lament to my husband that life can’t be this way more of the time. I’d love to pay for my cheap cell phone with eggs or buy printer paper with extra produce but that’s not the world we live in. Like most things, I think we just do the best we can and really appreciate these glimpses of life being the way we wish it were all the time. Maybe that balances the universe somehow. And, Eumaeus, you are so right about the need to cultivate community. I am determined to continue to do just that but sometimes get discouraged at just how challenging that can be. Baby steps…OK, I’ll stop hogging up all the comment space now:)

  • Tres Jolie says:

    WHAT ABOUT LIBRARIES? And do we really need the stuff we’re buying? I think there ought to be a 3 strikes you’re out rule about buying stuff. That is, you have to say no to the purchase 3 times before you’re allowed to buy it. 99% of the time I want to buy something and I can’t afford it right then by the time I can afford it I’ve realized I don’t really need it. I’ve found a non-purchase alternative by cobbling things together from around the place. If we’re going to be caught up in this situation at least maybe we can get the bull by the horns by exercising discipline.

  • Dirk Anderson says:

    I couldn’t let the following go by without commenting on it:

    “We’ve never shopped at WalMart; I can honestly say we’ve never even been tempted. My limited experience with big box stores is that they smell weird, induce tremendous amounts of stress via sensory overload, and tend to be full of a whole bunch of crap I’m better off not owning.”

    All of these things are true. However, I am fascinated to observe that the local Walmart is always, always BUSY. It is doing a land-office business selling “a whole bunch of crap” to people who obviously value low price over all the things that you and I presumably value more. And those people are members of my community as well, just as much as the guy with the bucketload of grain is. Who am I to tell them they’d be better off spending their meager paychecks elsewhere?

    This is not meant as an indictment of your sentiments about Walmart, its more of a rumination on consumerism itself, and whatever it is about us as human beings (collectively speaking) that enable Walmart to be what it is. And it’s easier than trying to figure that Emerson quote out.

    • Tres Jolie says:

      I don’t know ’bout y’all but here in our little backwoods it’s a 30 minute drive to anything with a real store and unfortunately the town fathers let the little town go to pot after a big fire that burnt down the downtown. Then they let a walmart set up shop. What we do: buy whatever extra groceries we need there and then patronize the locally owned lumber yard, hardware store and feedstore. I buy clothes at Goodwill. I buy shoes when we go to the BIG town once a year. I go to the library for books like when I was a kid (Yes, I’m a geezer). I don’t buy on Amazon. I don’t need to as it turns out. I know I know you’re saying this is special circumstance. I’m saying that if we think about it we can exercise discipline and limit ourselves with WallyWorld and Amazon and then they’re not controlling us but we’re controlling them. And then if some futuristic reality like drones comes to pass I’ll be out there with my shotgun with the rest of you. Yee HAW! It’s gets a little boring sometimes just contemplating the cosmos. – Renee

  • NeoNoah says:

    Emerson decoded—if one is comfortable in a world of sick people, that is not a sign of being healthy. Am not a Bible freak, but Noah was cosidered a crazy until the “normals” began to drown. Tap your trees with bucket and sled and let the ATV’s buzz right on by.

  • Wendy says:

    Eye-opening per usual, Ben. I now have added Amazon to my list of places that I refuse to support (not that I have in years anyway!) UNLESS there is some obscure book I can’t find anywhere else, which is rare – and I probably don’t need it anyway. I will pass that article along to a few of my more urban (or should I say urbane?) friends who think Amazon walks on water. If I can turn even one of them away – I will have served my purpose this week! ;-)

  • KJean says:

    I’d tend to agree with your post philosophically, even as an amazon shopper, but I have to say, talking chickens, eggs, and other such farm talk with the UPS man who has become a friend and I wouldn’t see otherwise has it’s merits as well. Living in rural America, some things are better off purchased on amazon rather than in a big box store where other items seem to want to jump off the shelf into the cart…like chocolate (mostly fended off, sometimes we fail). Balance is a funny hard thing to figure out isn’t it. Best to you & your family Ben.

  • trishcrockett says:

    Slightly off topic, but I had my in-laws save their most recent Yankee magazine for me so I could read your article. I really enjoyed it and wondered if it was at all awkward to see them after they read your take on their life. Just curious.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Hi Trish,

      Thanks for the note. It wasn’t too awkward. I know them pretty well and I let them read it before it went to print to be sure there weren’t any mistakes or misunderstandings.

  • Jennifer Jo says:

    I just pre-ordered your book from not-the-jungle Amazon (wink-wink).

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