I am a very loyal Amazon.com customer. I mostly patronize it for the eKindle eReader ecosystem which I find the best, most convenient and one of the greatest boons to my learning and reading ever. I am so enamored of it that it has inspired me to take up the typing cudgel after many years again of pseudo-literary writings, some fiction, and one new genre for me, a review of books which I plan to expand from one useful genre pertinent to Kindle users, and some others on politics, and the history of medicine.
But I was dismayed to read this weekend’s not so flattering article about Amazon’s work conditions and culture as revealed in an article by the New York Times this weekend, entitled: “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big
Ideas in a Bruising Workplace, ” that changed my view of Amazon severely within the time it took to read this lengthy and scathing article.
I fear that this could be the new way as the activists would say, of technologically oppressing the modern worker. One of the first of cours portrayed by Charlie Chaplin a century ago was of pushing the worker to the limits of speed of performing tasks of simply repetitive tasks on the assembly line, speed the line up, force the worker to put together as many widgets as possible, or in his case in the movie, tightening two big lugs on machinery with both arms simultaneously. The funny but starkly satirical lesson-bit was that after work he was still automatically tightening the lugs for hours with no wrenches in his hands without being able to stop after his shift was over.
The modern day equivalent for the last ?15 years or so has been the glorification of the young programming coder who keeps working at some high-tech Silicon Valley start up for huge number of hours, working day and night, eating pizza and salads and swilling tea, smoothies and whatever else the company snackery provided that catered to their young tastes, bribing them into gastronomic sedated satiety and worker bee false satisfaction and pride in working so hard. Now the instruments of worker oppression [disclaimer: I am no a ‘Commie’ or ‘radical,’, being a therapist makes one a particular kind of developmental “conservative,”] is/are DATA. Amazon makes phenomenal use of work metrics data, how long it takes to do this or that, who does it faster, who works the longest hour even if they are home. One particularly simply appalling practice was the approach of supervisors reproaching [onomatopeic pun INtended] workers who did not answer harassing texts to them about work at their homes even at night! This is beyond ridiculous. First responders, health care providers, physicians, PAs, nurses, EMTs, police, detectives, disaster coordinators, Red Cross workers, priests, ministers, these are the people and professions whom we know will need to be “on call,” and ready to answer the phone in the middle of the night when a true emergency happens. Those do not occur on a 9 to 5 basis, but coding and dot com work in no way comes close to taking on in a false oppressive manner the false pretension that its tasks cannot wait like a true human health emergency.
But Data is Apparently God Now…
The uses to which it can and is being put to use to drive the modern worker as exemplified at Amazon are worse than the old canard about “lying with statistics.” The work efficiency data is now being used ruthlessly and it would seem, without regard for the limits and health and well being of such companies’ most precious resources, their human capital, their workers. Add to this mix, the fact that workers in essence, have almost no rights in the modern work world anymore, unethical “crowded rat behavior,” as I call it is being generated as illustrated in the NYT article. Workers tell on each other anonymously. They gang up together to protect themselves in cliques to bad mouth through anonymous criticism channels to bad mouth in concert other single workers. The worst kind of cut throat competition is fostered. You cannot defend yourself, you do not know who bad mouthed you, you cannot confront your accuser which I thought was a treasured principle in this country (where are you Libertarians when we need you?). This all sounds like other totalitarian systems on a grander scale who employed spies everyone to falsely accuse others in order to ingratiate themselves and protect themselves with their arbitrary masters whom they knew could send them off to the camps, or gulags or re-education camps at any time or simply have them “disappeared,” which nowadays in this type work culture is being fired. Historical examples like Pinochet’s Chile, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the three generations of Kims of the Hermit State come to mind.
This is bad and not good for working America. And Amazon I can wait an extra week for what I order. And another thing, I am canceling my Amazon Prime. I hope it helps relieve some worker’s burden.