We need to consult some serious thinkers to realize how bad the Amazon Dash button is for our culture, the planet, and our souls. The New Yorker obliges, with an article titled “The horror of Amazon’s New Dash Button."
That’s right. HORROR.
. . . according to Amazon, these products represent the actual rhythm of life, any interruption of which might lead not only to inconvenience but to the kind of coffee-deprived despair that we see when the woman realizes that she has run out of K-cups. That’s the real dystopia: not that our daily lives could be reduced to a state of constant shopping but that we might ever have to, even for a moment, stop shopping.
Remember, this is about a device you stick in the cupboard so you can order detergent when you see you’re running out. That’s the author’s dystopian nightmare of endless enforced shopping, like some St. Vitus’ Twitch where you’re constantly slamming little puffy pop-up buttons to have more ergot-infused muffins shot into your mouth.
The way we manage our chores is a measure of our worthiness. No one wants to live in a stupid home. No one should have to fight with his spouse over who drank the last grapefruit soda. And only a chump would ever run out of toilet paper.
But what if there is actual value in running out of things?
Oh for corn’s sake, as Leroy Gildersleeve used to say. I haven’t read ahead, so I don’t know if running out of things brings us face-to-face with Something and helps us Evaluate our habits or perhaps Consider our Impact, but I do know that if running out of something is called a Virtue we have redefined the term to mean absolutely nothing. Let’s see:
The sinking feeling that comes as you yank a garbage bag out of the box and meet no resistance from further reinforcements is also an opportunity to ask yourself all kinds of questions, from “Do I want to continue using this brand of bag?” to “Why in the hell am I producing so much trash?”
I’ver never, ever asked myself if I want to continue using this brand of bag, because I have chosen it for specific reasons and intend to continue using it until a superior replacement comes along at a similar price. But since the unexamined life is not worth living, I should step in front of a bus.
The act of shopping—of leaving the house and going to a store, or, at the very least, of one-click ordering on the Amazon Web site—is a check against the inertia of consumption, not only in personal economic terms but in ethical ones as well. It is the chance to make a decision, a choice—even if that choice is simply to continue consuming.
It’s up to you to decide whether this person stands paralyzed in the grocery store wondering about whether he wants the Hunts diced tomatoes or the other brand that’s more expensive but may contain more ethical tomatoes, or whether he just believes other people should.
Ah, here’s the rub:
Look, we’re all going to keep using toothpaste, and the smarter consumer is the person who has a ten-pack of tubes from Costco in the closet. But shopping should make you feel bad, if only for a second. Pressing a little plastic button is too much fun.
Shopping should make you feel bad. We continue:
Amazon is also working with companies on devices that will be able to restock themselves. As the Wall Street Journal explained, “Whirlpool is working on a washer and dryer that anticipate when laundry supplies are running low so they can automatically order more detergent and dryer sheets.” Water purifiers could reorder their own filters; printers reorder their own ink. This is the dream of domestic life as a perfectly calibrated, largely automated system.
There are already printers that reorder ink. So the nightmare is already upon us.
This is the dream of domestic life as a perfectly calibrated, largely automated system. But the doomsayer in me likes to imagine some coffee maker gone HAL 9000, making its own decisions about what kinds of coffee it thinks it should be brewing. Or a washing machine, haywire and alone in a basement somewhere, constantly reordering supplies for itself long after we’ve all been wiped off the Earth.
This article appeared in the New Yorker magazine, which of course does not offer subscriptions and does not show up in your mailbox every week and of course does not offer automatic renewal of your online membership. Right? I assume you have to go buy it, which will give you the opportunity to be one of the good people. The ones who know they should feel bad.