For the third survey in our series on Amazon, we decided to stop by the grand public opening of the Amazon Go convenience store. The internet was abuzz the night before, especially after a New York Times journalist revealed he’d attempted to steal from the new automated store in the name of journalism. We arrived at 10:10 AM on Monday the 22nd, 2018. This was a lull-time between the spectacular opening at 7:00 AM and the lunch rush at 12:00 PM. Nothing prepared us for what we saw next.
(our simple message)
We unfurled a large banner which read YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT! and stood directly across from the front door. Only then did we realize what lay before us. Enclosed in a transparent glass cube at the sidewalk level were six service-workers actively preparing the food being sold inside the Amazon Go store. We had no intention of delivering this particular message to these particular workers, and yet whenever they looked up from wrapping sandwiches inside their glass box, they saw the words YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT!. In this regard, our action was perhaps overtly cruel and we would like to apologize to each worker inside that glass box.
(service workers in their glass box at Amazon Go)
Nevertheless, after first exhibiting signs of horror, depression, and anger at our message, these service workers eventually began to laugh and smile. They must have intuited that our message was aimed not at them but at the well paid tech workers swiping their smartphones at the automated turnstiles on the other side of their glass box. While the sandwich and salad makers earn less than 40,000 a year, the customers who will patronize Amazon Go earn upwards of 100,000 a year and can afford the overpriced food in Amazon Go. The store is not meant to be open on weekends, only on the busy weekdays where Amazon’s projected workforce of 50,000 well-paid employees will be disgorged for the lunch hour. Our message (YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT!) was aimed at this new techno upper class and it was delivered to hundreds of them as they filed into Amazon Go. There is nothing natural about one group of poorer people having to work on display in a glass box while another, wealthier group gets to act like they aren’t there.
We were seen by upwards of 1,000 individuals during the hour we held our banner. Several journalists talked to us at length about our positions and did not seem to mind the animal masks covering our faces. One tech worker at Amazon said “thanks for reminding me” in regards to our message. Another tech worker claimed “you’re not wrong.” An older man of the Baby Boomer generation wearing a puffy orange Amazon jacket approached one of us an asked if we’d ever heard of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. According to him, these digital forces were “going to change everything.”
(the digital forces poised to “change everything” inside Amazon Go)
We assured him this was not the case and that his nostalgia for the original Star Trek series wouldn’t save him from the collapse of his generation’s capitalist system. This seemed to disturb the man and he wandered back to his corporate overlords with an air of depression. This man was clearly part of the Amazon Go team, as they all appeared to be wearing identical puffy orange Amazon jackets. Another member of this team later told the media: “The number one problem for people is time poverty. People want good food fast and they want it to be convenient.” This team’s disconnection from reality cannot be overstated.
We didn’t stay for the lunch rush, an opportunity that would have provided us with high media exposure. Instead, we got to observe something like the normal functioning of the store. It was as mundane as you can imagine: people using money to buy food from an automat. As one of our members told The Washington Post: “This grocery store is a fantasy like there’s innovation here. But the implications are that the workforce is split into two classes: the people making $100,000 and up and others who have to scrape to survive.”
(This future is total shit)
The barrage of internet articles that accompanied the opening of Amazon Go mention how the trial run of this technology created a long line out the door, defeating the whole point of the store. A few of these articles repeatedly compare Amazon Go to a modern convenience store and claim the average 7-11 actually employs fewer people (5) than the new Amazon Go (20). While this observation might seem profound on a superficial level, these commentators are forgetting that Amazon Go is more like Whole Foods with its pricing and caters to a wealthy clientele, unlike 7-11. Oddly enough, the Amazon Go store employs fewer people (20) than the average Whole Foods store (300). Both have the same owner, and soon enough they’ll be integrated. After purchasing Whole Foods in August 2017, Amazon made its largest acquisition and took giant steps towards its automated future where food magically arrives on the shelf with no human context provided.
The well paid tech employees who patronized Amazon Go had these things called “choices.” No matter what they “chose” to do with their lives, their inherited privileges would prevent them from ever living in a tent encampment on the side of the freeway. Most normal people in this capitalist nightmare don’t have the privilege of “choices.” They must either work for 15-20 dollars an hour making sandwiches at Amazon Go or miss their rent payment and be forced to live in the jungle camp. Homelessness and unemployment are the only forces that keep this wretched capitalist system running. Without the threat of homelessness no one would work these shit jobs. There’s nothing natural about capitalism. It’s a ruthless machine built on the exploitation of the dispossessed who either make sandwiches in the glass box or navigate the nocturnal wastelands of this dying system. Luckily for us all, some people have already left capitalism and we wish to extend their territory to every corner of the earth.
(our offering to Santa Muerte, patroness of prostitutes, orphans, criminals, etc.)
By the time we release this article, the media orgy over the automated convenience store will have likely passed and the first critical voices begun to emerge. Amazon Go represents one of the thin, fragile threads holding the fabric of capitalism together. This new luxury automat will provide a meager distraction from our crumbling reality by “redefining the way we shop” and “changing the entire shopping experience.” These mystifying experiences are the last bulwarks of a charmless and brutal system now in its final death spasms. Jeff Bezos is one of the captains competing for the helm of this sinking ship. He’s locked into his egotistical role as Captain Kirk aboard the Starship Enterprise, guiding us all into his brave new world of automation, surveillance, control, and misery. Unlike the utopia depicted in the original Star Trek where money is abolished, Jeff Bezos can only conceive of a techno-capitalist dystopia where the privileged luxury class leaves this ravaged and burning earth on rocketships built by Amazon. We must prevent his future at all costs. We’ll continue our survey in the coming days, this time with many others and at a time of our choosing. Let this serve as a preamble for what comes next.