Overcoming the Amazon.com Addiction

By Dan Wilcock

I know, I know. The drones are coming. Yet resistance is not futile. I also realize that this post may somehow be hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), but there’s a ghost in this machine. There may be a Chase Amazon credit card in my card wallet, but that doesn’t mean it must reduce me to penury. It can be cancelled and snipped.

In the coming year, I’ve decided to embark on a challenging (for me) adventure: sever my deep ties to Amazon.com. Flash back to the middle 00s, when I first started shopping there. What a discovery! A commercial web site with a grasp of books, movies, and music unrivaled by any library. My interests often run fairly far down the long tail—my most recent book purchase: the Diamond Sutra as translated by Red Pine. So it became my “go to” for books on Shinto, films by Kurosawa and Ozu, and music by Steve Reich. That’s probably how a lot of people started their general-consumption relationship with Amazon.com: come for the rare out of print album, but then pick up a packet of coffee because it brings the total just high enough for free shipping.

It’s curious how companies that dominate the world often hail from Seattle: Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon. When I first started shopping on Amazon.com, I wouldn’t have even thought to put this site that sells books, DVDs, and CDs in the same category.  It was a link to self-sent care packages of books when I spent the years of winter 2006 to spring 2008 in Japan, but I didn’t imagine it would supplant Borders, and perhaps one day Barnes & Noble.

I’ve kept shopping at Amazon despite misgivings. Despite benefiting lavishly over the years from being able to buy things tax-free, I realize that Amazon wields this advantage to the destruction of community businesses across the country. I even picked up that Chase credit card, since it saves me 3% on the site. So why am I going to try to cut the cord now, given that I’ve always been able to rationalize saving money on Amazon.com in the past?

You get a 100% discount when you don’t buy anything, and the best thing a dancing consumer can do is to stop the music.

My CD collection is curated to within an inch of perfection (yep, I’m a total Generation Xer in my fondness for compact discs) and my collection of books and films isn’t too shabby. Here in the DC area, where people are constantly dumping these items (CDs in particular) on the used/thrift/library charity market, they generally can be had for about a buck a pop. Speaking of the library, they can generally get me whatever I need in terms of mind-expansion.

Meanwhile, Amazon is readying the drones. I also imagine they are experimenting with branded 3D printers that will allow people around the world to print what they order in minutes. Amazon is here to stay, and its crafty futuristic-minded leader Jeff Bezos has created a company that can honestly claim to have changed the world.

But that doesn’t help me and my family in our quest for sustainability. We too can be crafty, and choosy about who and what we support. I may end up spending a bit more on some things, but I imagine that there will be more net savings (har har).

One of the big changes on the digital horizon is the rise of the websites that seamlessly customize themselves to your preferences and desires. Amazon is a pioneer in this space, and Rakuten, Japan’s version of Amazon, is also making moves in this direction. Coupled with the potential loss of net neutrality, which means that corporations can slant which sites you see, this trend portends even more mindless consumerism.

So I’m going to see how I do, now and throughout 2014, in resisting the urge to load up a cart on Amazon.com. I’m sure I’ll be back for an update or two on this topic, especially if I lapse. If I do, I wonder how long it will have taken.

Dec. 8, 2013, Rockville, Md.