[CONTACT]

[ABOUT]

[POLICY]

Amazon and me As mentioned

Found at: zaibatsu.circumlunar.space:70/~solderpunk/phlog/amazon-and-me.txt

Amazon and me
-------------

As mentioned in the introductory post[1], I want to examine my
relationship with Amazon.  They stand out as kind of an exceptional
case for me amongst Sterling's "Big Five".  I don't think I've ever
given Apple a single cent, nothing they do interests me in the least.
I'm not sure how people feel comfortable buying things from them when
every design decision they make underscores how they view their
customers as nothing more than gullible piles of cash to be harvested.
Laptops covered in exotic ports so you have to buy a fistfull of white
plastic dongles to connect to even the most overpoweringly bog-basic
universal standard connectors; phones with non-removable batteries;
hell, phones now without 3.5mm headphone jacks so you have to buy
Bluetooth phones.  Blech.  And, to be honest, I'm not sure why
Microsoft were included in the list.  Perhaps Sterling was feeling
generous, perhaps I'm missing something (I know Windows phones *exist*,
but I've never seen an actual human owner and user of one), but MS
seem to me to be on the verge of irrelevance.  There are plenty of
people who give *no* thought to technology ethics who doesn't use MS
products anymore.  And Facebook and Google are the obvious problematic
giants.  I know I don't like them and I know why and I have been
actively taking steps for a long time to involve them in less and less
of my online life.  But Amazon?  I don't really put them in the same
mental basket as the others, and far from trying to cut them out of my
life, heck, I actually kind of *like* them (more on this later).

While preparing this post it occurred to me that I kind of
misconstrued the Big Five list.  It's not intended as a list of evil
internet companies that people who want to "keep their hands clean"
should avoid.  But because 4 of the 5 companies on it are companies
I think of as *exactly* that, the whole purpose of the list kind of
twisted in my mind.  The Big Five are companies who have used
internet technology to obtain very powerful monopolies by providing
some kind of "infrastructure as a service", and since Sterling sees
the IoT as primarily an attempt by other big companies to try to
achieve this same kind of dominance "in the real world", they are
kind of intended as case studies.

And just like Google and Facebook aren't on the list because of their
public facing fronts (search, social media) but instead because of
their actual business (surveillence), Amazon aren't on there because
of the kinds of thing that *I* think of them as providing (again,
more on this later), but rather because of some gargantuan
behind-the-scenes thing, which in this case is logistics.  And I
freely admit that I know nothing and, to be honest, don't care an
awful lot about logistics.  And I really had no idea that Amazon was
a big player in that field.  When I lived in the US and thus used
Amazon regularly (I had a Prime account, which entitled me to free
two-day shipping on anything and everything), I recall the vast
majority of my packages coming via very traditional means like UPS
or something like that.  However, with some quick web seraches it is
pretty apparent that Amazon is, in fact, successfully "disrupting"
logistics (see https://logistics.amazon.com/).  Actually, perhaps
this should have been obvious, I *did* hear all the stuff about
Amazon drone deliveries a little while back.  And since this is
arguably the most "real world" activity that the Big Five engage in,
this is probably an *especially* important case study for IoT
purposes.  But it's well outside the realm of my expertese or,
really, the scope of this phlog.

So, the rest of this post is going to be a bunch of stuff I wrote
*before* I properly grasped all of this and was thinking naively
about my interactions with the public face of Amazon.  Which is not
worthless, afterall, I would like to optimise *all* my interactions
with big companies for ethicality, not just my computing-related
ones.  I have no idea how interesting what follows is to anybody
else, but since I made a post promising to talk about this I feel
obliged to upload *something*.

I said earlier that whereas I actively dislike and happily try to
avoid the rest of the Big Five, I actually kind of like Amazon, and
it's true.  It pains me a bit to say that, since I'm so interested
in a minimal, simplistic, sustainable, frugal lifestyle.  How can I
like a massive online store that sells huge piles of crap nobody
really needs?  Well, it's not because I like shopping for the sake
of shopping.  It's because I have lots of unusual hobbies and
interests, many of which I enjoy at least in part *because* they
are opposed to materialistic consumption, in that they involve
repairing or restoring and using old things that many would consider
obsolete and throw out.  And because of these interests, I often
need to buy really quite obscure odds and ends; unusual cables or
adaptors, special lubricants or cleaning agents, oddly sized
batteries, weird tools.  And the simple true is, that Amazon has
*all* this shit, no matter what, and it all comes with a huge number
of reviews, so you can research your choice carefully.  Amazon makes
what little shopping I *do* engage in as painless and efficient as
possible.

Let me assure you that having niche hobbies without access to Amazon
*sucks*.  An era ended recently when early this year (or maybe very
late laste?), amazon.com.au appeared.  Yes, we finally got Amazon,
maybe two years after we finally got Netflix.  Before this, there was
effectively no Amazon in Australia or New Zealand.  You *could* order
from the American or UK Amazons, but they were very selective about
what they would ship, and shipping was invariably very expensive and
took weeks, making the whole thing so unappealing that almost nobody
bothers.  And because of this, when you need something unusual you
have to waste hours of your life searching through a long series of
small speciality stores to find the things you need.  The range is
a tiny fraction of what you would find at Amazon, the prices are
higher because small speciality stores need higher profit margins to
survive, and there are very few or often no reviews of anything so
you never know if you're about to waste time and money on crap.
It's frustrating and it's *limiting*.  Ironically, I have found that
having access to a mega-store like Amazon actually facilitates weird
and wonderful mind-expanding hobbies as an alternative to mindless
consumerism.

That said, I am aware that there is plenty of controversy around
Amazon, relating to tax issues, treatment of their warehouse
workers, etc.  I won't pretend that I'm okay with this, I suppose I
just put it in a different mental basket, as a case of "big greedy
companies being big greedy companies".  It's nothing new and it's
nothing specific to the internet.  I probably *should* make more of
an effort to disengage myself from this kind of thing, but let's be
frank, if I'm going to avoid doing business with companies that
treat their workers poorly and who try to avoid paying as much tax
as they're supposed to, I would probably have bigger and more
pressing concerns than Amazon.  Besides, I am not using them as
much these days as I used to.  There is no amazon.fi, but I can and
have used amazon.de and amazon.co.uk a few times since moving here.
It's more convenient than it is from AU/NZ, but not as convenient
as it was in the US.  I don't have a Prime account, and now that
my hobby bench is more or less fully kitted out, I think future
purchases will be relatively rate.

All of the above applies to Amazon in their capacity as an online
store, which is my default mental model of them, but there is more
to consider.

There is Amazon as the provider and ruler of the Kindle ecosystem.
As mentioned, I own and use a Kindle.  I will admit to being
conflicted about this.  I bought the thing because I move overseas
quite often for work reasons, and this lifestyle is totally
incompatible with accumulating physical books, which is something
that I used to do a lot of.  I guess that's a bit of a cop out, in
that I could have compensated by buying cheap used books and
reselling them after reading, or relying more heavily on libraries
(although now that I'm in a non-English speaking country the range
of English books at the library is diminished, although still
better than you might expect).  And I know that Amazon no doubt
mine the data about the books I read - I convinced myself that
this was not a big problem because prior to buying the Kindle I had
bought a heavy percentage of my *physical* books from them anyway,
so they weren't learning anything new.  And yeah, the books are
DRMed, and that's nasty.  Despite the fact that I kind of feel
bad about owning the thing, at the end of the day, I *do* own it
now, and the thing cannot be unmade, so I feel an intense personal
responsibility to ensure that it is used for as long as possible
and then properly disposed of, to reap maximum benefit from the
extensive environmental damage already done to manufacture it and
to make sure that as little further damage is done as possibl.e
And the best way to achieve this is maintain to-the-grave control
of it myself.  Of course, I could probably jailbreak or root (or
whatever the Kindle-appropriate term is) the thing and use it to do
non-DRMey things with FOSS software.  But I do find using it for
it's intended purpose so convenient that I worry about doing
anything that might endanger that use (and I don't imagine that
Amazon would have any qualms whatsoever about making sure that
devices not running the stock firmware cannot access the Amazon
store).  So, yeah, I guess no way around it, I'm sacrificing some
principles for convenience here.  I *do* think the damage done by
participating in this kind of ecosystem is far less than that done
by participating in those of Facebook and Google, for what little
it's worth.

There is also Amazon as a provider of cloud services, in the guise
of AWS, and I'm a user of this too.  Specifically, I use their
"Route 53" DNS service.  When I first began hosting my own stuff
online, I got free DNS hosting from an old friend's internet
business.  This was back in the days when I used a physical server
in my own home and was hosting from behind an ordinary old DSL
connection.  Once I moved to using VPSes, I suddenly had IPv6
addresses that I wanted to use.  For whatever reason, my friend
was not set up to handle AAAA records, so I went to Amazon have
used them ever since.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I have no
idea at all what is involved in providing my own nameservers, but
maybe I should look into it.  As I've added more and more domains
from various hobby projects (including, of course,
circumlunar.space), I have noticed my monthly AWS bills getting
larger and larger.  They are still trivial, about US$2 a month,
but then, that's US$24 a year, which is more than what the actual
circumlunar.space VPS costs me, so probably I could actually save
some money by doing my own namehosting.  I couldn't hope to match
the uptime or geographic distributedness of Amazon, to be fair,
but then it's not clear that I really need to.  Maybe this is the
most fruitful place for me to try to disengage from Amazon, in
that I might simultaneously save money, learn some new networking
stuff, and increase my online self-reliance.

If anybody has any experience with running their own nameservers,
feel free to drop me a line.

[1] gopher://circumlunar.space:70/0/~solderpunk/phlog/the-epic-stru
ggle-of-the-iot.txt