I am ashamed by my Amazon Prime Day purchases.
It’s not the contents that I’m feeling so guilty about — I bought some CeraVe face wash and a set of silicone baking mats, if you must know — but that I fell for this absurd holiday yet again.
Imagine trying to explain [Prime Day] to an alien or to a time traveler from the 20th century. “Amazon turned 20 and on the eve of its birthday, the company introduced Prime Day, a global shopping event,” reads Amazon’s formal telling of the ritual’s 2015 origins. “Our only goal? Offer a volume of deals greater than Black Friday, exclusively for Prime members.” The holiday was invented by a corporation in honor of itself, to enrich itself. It has existed for six years and is observed by tens of millions of people worldwide.
Like, what the fuck are we doing? Millions upon millions of human beings have sacrificed money, time and attention to this behemoth of a company whose only goal is to take as much of our money, time and attention as possible.
Then, on one Special Day, (though I kind of feel like there are multiple Prime Days every year, no?) we race to spend more money and time on things we probably don’t need, only want.
For the record, I needed the face wash because I’m almost out. I did not need the baking mats — I barely, if ever, bake.
Amazon is a company that treats its workers like trash and, along the way, creates more garbage than I can comprehend.
In a recent Reuter’s story, a former Amazon warehouse worker said that in just a single warehouse location, employees were tasked with destroying 130,000 items — including a bunch of electronics — a week. Also:
Amazon was responsible for 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019, according to a 2020 Oceana report.
Per 2018 data (so this number has probably increased but I’m not looking any deeper right now), about 165 billion packages are shipped in the US each year, with the cardboard used roughly equating to more than 1 billion trees. (This isn’t all Amazon-related, but still.)
Amazon’s rapid growth, including its warehouse expansions, disproportionately pollutes areas populated by low-income communities of color. Amazon has only seen more success throughout the pandemic, while we know low-income groups of color have faced the most dire consequences.
There’s a lot more data — both publicized and not yet uncovered — about the very serious environmental damage Amazon is generating. We can discuss another time.
All of this is horrifying. And yet:
I am way more complicit in Amazon’s drive for power than I care to admit.
Beyond being a dopey consumer, I write freelance articles that editors assign with the sole goal of making publishers money off of Amazon affiliate links. (Honestly, this is some of the best paying, low-effort work I can find right now. I’m not sure if that’s enough of an excuse, but if I don’t write it, someone else surely will.)
It’s not just a Prime Day event for most publishing brands. There are entire verticals — and open job positions — dedicated to “commerce," a bottom line dependent on affiliate linking to sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Target… but mostly Amazon.
An aside: This is all a convoluted mind fuck. The very same websites that provide quality journalism about Amazon’s problems — take Vox’s The Verge, that reported on Amazon’s alarming plastic pollution numbers that I cited above — also participate in this commerce madness.
The Verge has a disclaimer that reads: “If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission,” on the very same article page that reports Amazon’s devastating activity. The complicity here is systemic.
The frictionless instantaneity of online shopping and light speed delivery has rewired what feels like my physiological definition of “need.”
Living in a global pandemic outside of the city for the past year — where it takes about 30 minutes to drive to Target, when in the past I’d just… walk? — has given me a new understanding of how using online services like Amazon can become second nature.
There are absolutely groups of people whose genuine needs — and perhaps lifelines — benefit from this kind of access to goods and services. (Ex: For people who can’t physically leave their homes or those who live in areas where essential goods are physically or financially inaccessible, Amazon has opened doors.)
But for me, and maybe people like me (you?), Amazon has deepened the urgency of my shallow desires and increased the rate at which I want.
Here’s a concrete, if not absolutely inane, example: My dog Gussie is a power chewer, and recently she destroyed one of her favorite toys — it was bright yellow and shaped like a branch. She had whittled it down to nubby pieces and was starting to swallow the bits she chewed off (I even spotted the remnants in her poo a few times — biology in action, baby!).
I felt almost devastated that I had to throw out one of her favorite toys (a psychological issue to unpack at another time), and immediately hopped on Amazon for a replacement. I couldn’t find the exact toy in question, so I actually ordered three different toys that I thought would appeal to her.
They arrived the following day. Gussie was excited to smell the box.
Intellectually, I know Gussie doesn’t give a shit about this toy replacement. She will just as happily play with a large stick or a piece of garbage she finds outside, and that she does.
But I didn’t really give myself time to process this truth. Like I said, my brain has been rewired in a way — I skip over the rational and take the route of convenience and fulfillment.
There’s no doubt, that rush of dopamine I get when a new package arrives — especially in a time where there’s not much else to do/receive pleasure from — has something to do with the new pattern of thought. No matter how fleeting the joy is, it’s instant and so sweet in the moment.
So, this big dumb rant is to say, well… WHEW. What does a better future look like here? Amazon’s not going anywhere, nor is consumerism, nor is online shopping in general. So what are we to do in an effort to decrease the harm that’s created by this whole system?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever toyed with the idea of quitting Amazon? Do you think there are much bigger fish to fry? Should we just succumb to our most meaningless indulgences since we’re all going to die one day?
Do let me know in the comments section.
P.S. This meme made me laugh: