I feel guilty about my Amazon habit (not that I’m doing anything about it)
The recent revelations about Amazon weren’t exactly news to me. I have a friend who spent an intense year there in a satellite office, soaking up the jargon, crunching numbers and constantly pivoting whenever a new edict was issued forth from Seattle. (And this was supposed to be a book editing job, literary, creative, and so forth. As if.) But nearly all workplaces have their bugaboos. At least, once you exit a gig like Amazon, you’re primed (pun intended) to be snapped up by a kinder, gentler employer, at more money than you might have made otherwise. If you aren’t forced out, you can always leave.
Yet my friend’s experiences as well as the recent, bruising reports in the New York Times feeds a steady guilt within me, one that began festering when I received my first Kindle, from the man who would eventually become my husband. It was his first gift to me, six years ago, a time when people still tapped my shoulder in bars as I sat with a glass of wine and my little black tablet to inquire how I liked the Kindle experience.
I liked it. Very much. So much that since then, I’ve ordered 350 Kindle books, more than a book a week, and that’s not all. I’m an all-star member of Amazon Prime, forking over $99 a year for the privilege of ordering something to be delivered — for free! — to my doorstep 48 hours later, whether hummingbird food for our feeders ($6.95), basically sugar water that I could have easily made myself, or noise-cancelling headphones for my husband’s birthday ($299). I’d count up my Amazon Prime orders to display here, too, but at a rate of one every 48–72 hours, I’d be here all day.
I used to be a passionate troller of independent bookstores. I used to love shopping for gifts for friends (or my husband) in cute little stores with expertly curated quirky, hand-made merchandise. And when I’m on vacation with time to spare, I do pop into local shops to browse and sometimes buy, picking up a pristine new book in its three-dimensional form, the shape and heft of it taking up an almost unconscionable amount of room on my too-small night table.
Yet other than those occasional forays, I am utterly dependent on Amazon, especially since I started spending a portion of my year living in a part of Connecticut known as “The Quiet Corner,” where the nearest store is a 25-minute drive away and the most memorable landmark in town is an old-time Ford car dealership (there’s a reason you haven’t heard of it).
Which is why I panicked when a swath of writer friends, trying to do the right thing for the book world (and maybe the rest of the world) announced a boycott of Amazon on Facebook a few months ago, not just for book-buying but for everything-buying. I followed along as one writer I admired after another began buying baby gifts and books and bed linens on other sites, sites that weren’t trying to destroy conventional publishers or forcing their warehouse workers to toil in summer without AC. And my panic grew, as did my guilt.
Because I wasn’t going to consider giving up my Prime membership. Not for an instant. Nor did I think about switching back to my once-beloved paper books.
Which left me with a difficult question. What kind of person had I become? Did my unwavering devotion to Amazon make me an unfeeling, brutish, philistine, someone who might not vote for Bernie Sanders because, well, he probably can’t win?
I keep reading the stories of nastiness, and applauding friends who’ve made the switch, but wrestle though I may, I haven’t actually changed my buying habits, nor tried shopping on another site nor, god forbid, vowed to actually purchase in brick-and-mortar stores on a regular basis. Instead, I continue making my own personal contribution to the downfall of all things that are good and true and important: mom and pop shops and indie book stores, humane workplaces where people who have miscarriages or get cancer aren’t penalized because they can no longer put in 80-hour work weeks, business that don’t use killing machines (aka drones) to facilitate same-day delivery.
Apparently, my need for convenience, for instant-gratification, trumps my ethics, my more generous instincts, my desire to do right in the world, or, at least, to do no harm.
I can live with the guilt, apparently. But I can’t live without Amazon.