Flightless Bird: Amazon - Transcripts

August 16, 2022

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This week on Flightless Bird, David prepares to hit “Buy Now” as he embarks into the world of Amazon, the company that notched up $116 billion in sales during the first three months of this year. Joined by Monica, he looks at how this company has slowly inserted itself into the American lifestyle, from TV and film, to products, to Alexa living in everyone’s house, tending to their every need. David interviews Emily West, an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusets, about how Amazon’s marketing made a brown cardboard box so popular. He also talks to the author of “Fulfillment,” Alec MacGillis about how Amazon’s various factories are changing the face of America, city by city - as Amazon is now America’s second-largest private employer next to Walmart.


Hi, I'm David Farrier in new Zealander who accidentally got marooned in America and I want to grasp what makes this country tick. Now back in new Zealand, if I wanted to get a new chili, been a pair of tongs or maybe some jangles, I'd need to go to the shop. Now chances are none of those words make any sense to you. But my point is if I needed to buy something, I'd get in my car, drive to a store, go shopping, load the things into my car and drive back home here in America. You don't need to do any of that. You click a few buttons while you're still in bed and the next day there's a cardboard box at the door with all your stuff. It's some kind of sorcery I don't understand, but americans call it amazon and they seem to love it. Especially during the pandemic. During the first three months of last year, amazon notched up 100 and $8 billion in sales. The first three months of this year, 100 and 16 billion up eight billion years a year. It's left walmart in its dust. I want to know why americans have gone bonkers for a company whose base, its entire brand around a cardboard box and has a logo that looks a bit like an erect penis.

So get ready to go on a shopping spree whilst also feeling terrible about the working conditions and the environment because this is the amazon episode in America. This is going to be an interesting one. There's so many opinions around amazon and I don't actually know the details of why everyone is so outraged. I think this is part of amazon's whole thing is that they're kind of in our lives in such a way that you don't really need to think about it too much. Here's my issue with humans. I don't know if it's american, I think this is humans. This is the american humans episode. Exactly, but we do love to root for something and get excited about something and then tear it to pieces once it's successful. Look this is well, New Zealand's favorite thing is doing this when Lord, one of our biggest like topics Yeah Lord, she's great, she's amazing. So you know, she she comes out she's I don't know, 15 or something, she's very young mystery singer, we suddenly find out who she is. We love Lord, we support Lord, everyone's playing Lord, it's on the radio, wow, this kid's done so well, she's only 15. What a talent.

Fast forward to when she's winning some Grammys New Zealanders collectively were like Lord Why? She's clearly been courted by a record label, she's clearly can't be writing any of her own things were the best at tearing shit down. It's horrific. I hate that from a place of deep insecurity. It is and jealousy, it's rooted in all of that stuff, but it bums me out a little bit when I think about amazon because first of all we have so much from it. Imagine when we first when it was just books, the little bookstore that became this like it's like definition of the american dream, right? You start with nothing and you build your life into something that's what that story is. On one hand it is and now it's too big and its monopoly and all those things they are true. I think it's important to support small business. But the tricky thing is there are a lot of small businesses on amazon and they have to use amazon to sell their products and there's arguments to be made that that's giving them a great opportunity. Then the other side of it is no, it's a terrible place for them to operate at the same time. It's super complicated.

I think if I had a small business which I might soon easter egg, I think I would love it if it was solid amazon where people can just get it so quick. I mean that's the thing. Even detractors of amazon and I talked to some of them in the documentary, I'm going to play you. They all use amazon. So if you're in new Zealand and you use amazon, you go to amazon dot com, we don't have an amazon in New Zealand. So it's a very different experience. So I ordered some books off amazon a, I'm paying for shipping quite a bit. No, don't have prime takes a couple of months to arrive. The opposite of the point. It's the opposite of the point. The only reason you use amazon is to get something you can't get in a story in new Zealand you're like, I will get this obscure book off amazon or something like that. It's kind of like Ebay and that you just use it for a sort of obscure things because it's not going to be cheaper necessarily than going into your local bookshop.

Coming to America. My mind was genuinely blowing when I realized I could just click buy now and have a thing there the next day and from then on out it's all I'm doing and it's ridiculous because they control the distribution as well. On one hand, it makes your life so easy. On the other hand, makes you very lazy, you'll buy something for $10. So I forgot that. Let's just do another shipment. It doesn't cost anything, it's horrific. But is it that, well, I guess the packaging, what's bad is the trucks that are running around everywhere. They're getting electric trucks now, but essentially you're putting a bunch of extra cars on the road and its packaging. The other side of it is you're generating more jobs and that kind of thing, but you're right, It's for every counter, there's another perspective to the whole thing. Two things real quick one. Do you really not know why the shape of the, so the shape of its a smile?

It's a smiley face, but it looks like a penis, what is it? What is it? I see a penis or a smiley face each day. I see something different. It's like a magic. I like one of those image tricks. No, it's an arrow going from the A to the Z. Get out A to Z from here to there. They have it all from A to Z. I swear to God, I had no idea. That's what it was. Does every american know this?

I think I'm in the minority. I I've never seen you look so smug, the cat that got the cream just then. But thank you for that. It's a good piece of information. I really like that. One other thing I should say before we really get into this episode because it will expose my potential bias. I did do a commercial once with Jeff Bezos, I love this about you and I must know about it. And you know, I once recorded a podcast for audible. That's amazon thing. So we have both arguably got money via amazon. So let's put that on the table. What was it like, can you talk a little bit about that commercial?

It was a Super Bowl commercial and amazon commercial. Duh for one of the voice activated things, I guess Alexa Alexa, I guess at the top of the commercial, it was me and a couple other people talking to Jeff Bezos about fixing the product or something. It's been a few years? It's been a few years. All I want to know is like, what was he like? What was his presence? He was so nice. He was really kind to us and asked us some questions. He was in and out. We got to take your on set. Boom, do your line, boom, shooting, boom cut done. But he was very buff and short, sort of a tight top, tight sweater tight shirt.

I think it was a tight vest. Oh, look at that. He probably got on amazon. I love this for you. These are like two great facts to know. Thank you. I stalked the streets and this is what other people had to say about this quite large company.


don't have amazon prime in new Zealand. And so I'm just finding myself one click ordering seems like every second day and I feel quite guilty about it and don't know if I should or not.

Well, no, I understand that guilt. I feel that same guilt when I'm putting cars on the road and then requesting packaging and all this other stuff that's going to pollute our world. But it's quite the conundrum, isn't it? It's easily accessible. You can click and buy. It will be at your door within the next day, sometimes same day, but there the cons that I have is like it's a monopoly yesterday I was at the mall and it looked like I was in the nineties, nobody even shops at the mall and not only social media goes into your day to day like distractions and multitasking and like oh I gotta check this, I gotta check that. But I think like oh I got to buy this on amazon and then I have the app on my home screen and it's like boom and it's there and then I always think about it, you know, throughout the day, so it does affect my thinking. I would say they've purchased a lot of property that they've turned into warehouses to make it easily accessible for us. You love amazon at the same time there buying property and kicking people out of their homes were stuck in it and it's getting worse. We enjoy the convenience and we're getting more and more used to it.

So yesterday we went to the amazon style store in Glendale, it's the one and only in the world you go in and there's one item of everything in the store, You scan it and they have the sizing and everything, they put it in a dressing room for you and it's really like a futuristic shopping experience. Make you think warm thoughts towards amazon or cold thoughts in different thoughts kind of like this is our future and we were saying how who needs malls anymore, this could be an entire mall with different kiosks. It is a cool experience. You know, you're not walking around carrying all your clothes, it's

just shows up

in your changing room,

It's kind of a trip,

you're not employed by amazon to tell me this. I don't even own stock, so No, I have no connection.

I mean

papa Bezos's papa Bezos, but the best part about them is the songs that bo Burnham has made

So, so

good. The best were singing them as we were shopping in the amazon store because we're like, wow, this is our life, we just have to accept it now. America. Huh?

Yeah, America,

wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. I also really like that someone just answered with. It's quite a conundrum, isn't it? Yeah, and you know what, I respect that person because he's just like fuck it's hard. Yeah, it's honest. Listen, amazon is now moving back into store, this is amazing, I didn't know that. Yeah, it's a thing. So spoiler alert for a little bit further in this episode, but I go to the store, you know, I love shopping, I should have taken you because it was an experience and it is an interesting thing because the whole thing with amazon is you're not going to a shop but there's that thing I guess with clothes and I don't know if you've experienced this, but I've certainly bought clothes online. They turn up, they're not fitting properly, you want to be able to wear them to see if it works or not just getting them shipped to, you can be tricky. So I think having a fit kind of makes sense. Well I'm really glad this episode has turned into a shopping episode because this is where I thrive. Could see your face doing some things.

So happy. First of all, I really like going into a store. You see the things you touch the things. It's very aspirational when you're feeling the vibe of the story, you're like I could be this girl, I am her. I'm going to buy six things you really are this year. You're really loving that experience. Oh my God. I mean and I grew up on my best friend Callie and I, we would spend all our time at the mall all of our time. It's such an american childhood. I love that meeting in the mall. But even me who has this extreme affinity for it. I do most of my shopping online.

Okay. Including clothing, mainly clothing. Okay, but but this is a problem. Do you not find when you order things sometimes that they're not fitting or it doesn't look on you as you thought it would course, but you're just probably sending it back and they just return it. How does it work in America? If you get a whole lot of clothes you put them on, they don't fit. How are you getting them back to the place and then getting other clothes instead. You just shipping them back and forth. Are you off to the post office? You packaging them up? I genuinely don't understand. I mean you get a return label that normally comes in your box often or you print it whatever and then tape it on and go drop it off at ups you can just drop it off at the store or sometimes they'll do pickups.

What's ups is that the post shop? Wait what? I've never seen anything in the mail here. I'm too scared. Haven't you seen ups trucks? I've seen the men in them. They have no door on the side. You almost look straight into the cab. Almost. All right that was my one detour because you didn't know about you B. S wow okay so then you drop it off and then you order a new size if you want or normally you're just like oh that's not for me okay and you just send it back and they'll refund you. I gotta be honest I'm not good at returning.

I just keep it you just keep it and don't wear it or you'll give it away or you'll just wear this thing that you don't love. I normally try to no no no no I'll normally give it away after some amount of time. Like I leave it sitting out for a long time with the hopes that I will return but it's a huge hassle going into a store. It's an equal hassle to return it to the actual store at the mall? Yeah but you're saying you'd try it on. you wouldn't buy in the first place. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I'd go in there for that experience. But look, I love online shopping because I don't like malls, I don't like the bright lights, you don't know who you're gonna bump into malls and I don't love them. So, I love again, moles moles. I love moles, moles are great. Are we talking about face moles or the creature?

I was thinking about the creature, cute little mole. I love them all. Do you still think moles are great when you're talking about face malls? Always actually found out this is just a deviation that is completely unrelated, but people in America, you can keep a pet skunk. I'm following this instagram account and I'm sure this is an animal welfare issue. But the people have pet skunks that they have di distinct like the stink. And so these skunks are running around, they're eating carrots, you're scratching their belly and occasionally the great thing is when they get angry, they still run up to you and turn their bum to you and try and squirt, but nothing comes out. It's like a little puff of hot air, but it doesn't smell. It's the cutest thing. Anyway, moles and skunks that get any ideas. Do not honestly Monica when you see their fluffy tails and how they like a belly scratch, you will fall in love, you're too far gone. Okay.

All right, so look, I clearly don't know about amazon myself as always, I went out to learn a little bit more about this company that I'd argue. Probably everyone in America has something to do with in some way. If you're not shopping on there, you've probably got like a factory in your town or something. This is what I learned. Emily West remembers very clearly the moment she became obsessed with amazon, it was in august 2015 and I was scrolling through new york times headlines, which is my habit. Emily is associate professor of communication at the University of massachusetts, she studies brands and she's recalling seeing the new york times as big expose about working conditions at amazon seven years ago, it had really struck a nerve with me and it was striking a nerve with other people too at the time it was the most commented on article at the new york times I've ever had online. People are like, I can't believe this is so terrible, I'm going to cancel my account. I'm never going to buy from there again and other people saying, how can you be so naive, of course it's going to be very exploitative to get you these products so quickly and I just had this moment of like, I'm a media scholar and actually not just a media scholar, but a scholar of consumer culture. So I've studied brands and consumption and promotional culture and things like that and I just never really thought about how much amazon had creeped into my life for me amazon less creeped into my life and more exploded into it. I got to America in april last year and discovered a bunch of streaming services we don't have in new Zealand, HBO max, hulu and Amazon prime. I signed up to amazon and discovered that as well as being able to watch endless hours of content, I could also order endless amounts of stuff. It's like magic When these products show up on our doorsteps and we especially pre pandemic thought very little about what made that possible, especially when you're a prime member and you don't actually pay for the shipping, it's just bundled in and so it becomes just this thing that of course you're owed if you have to buy something from somewhere else and it's like $7 or $5 or something to ship it.

I think that creates a huge amount of friction for people. It feels wrong now or surprising that was one of amazon's genius moves free shipping, free convenience for customers Now, what's always amazed me is that despite the new york Times article about working conditions and the countless articles since its popularity just keeps growing, it's my personal theory that amazon could publicly execute an entire family of panda bears and everyone would still be clicking by now, there are some people who learned about the working conditions during the pandemic and the warehouses or even at regular times or concerned just about the rise of bigness that there should be no company that's that big and are very effortful and do ethical consumption and try to shop elsewhere. I totally support and applaud that and I think that's great and if more of us could do it that it would send a message amazon's become really infrastructural and a variety of ways. So a lot of what we're buying on amazon is from small businesses like small what's called third party sellers and a lot of them feel they have to sell on because that's where all the shoppers are. Also like if you want to find that product sometimes you have to find it on amazon, it won't be easily available elsewhere. It's moving so quickly into last mile delivery. Last mile delivery is where there's no middleman in the mail system, it's just the warehouse to your front door, that little amazon truck, The personal Uber for all the junk you've ordered. It only really started doing that maybe four years ago or so. And now it's delivering to our doorsteps, A huge proportion of the packages that you to be from. U. S. Postal services or Fedex.

I get to thinking about those packages, amazon drops off those generic brown boxes before amazon came along. The only creatures obsessed with cardboard boxes were cats. Thanks to amazon. I think humans have overtaken cats and their love of the brown box. You look at something like a company like coke that markets itself like so sexily and so colorfully amazon is that the brown box and a sort of smiley face logo. It's so low, How important has the image been to their success? That's what I think is so interesting about Amazon is I agree with you. It's very low key branding but it's actually one of the most trusted most loved brands in America. In 2018, Georgetown University surveyed Americans about what are the most trusted institutions and it looked beyond cos it looked at colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, local government, national government, etc. Amazon was the second most trusted institution in the United States, second only to the military and for democrats, it was number one. It's very american to put your faith in shopping, people will get a Nike swoosh tattoo or they'll wear a Nike hat but there's no amazon tattoos, there's no merch. It's all about relationship marketing.

So yeah, the brown box isn't flat. She but it's familiar and you get a lot of them and it's reliable. It's reliable. Also compounded by the increasing frequency of interactions we now have with amazon. It goes out of its way to personalize its services to offer personalized recommendations and now it has a persona with Alexa Alexa goes out of its way to get to know us and their goal is for Alexa not just to respond to our requests but to anticipate our needs. I haven't got Alexa yet. I only have room for Syria in my life, but it does amaze me how we freak out about episodes of Black Mirror but welcome listening devices into our homes with open arms. A woman says Alexa gave her 10 year old daughter some dangerous advice. The young girl used her smart speaker to ask Alexa for a challenge to do and Alexa suggested the girl attempt to challenge to plunge in a phone charger halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prompt. That was a freak incident last year. But enough stories like this and you get films like kimmy riffing on how bonkers, things are getting a voicestream interpreter. I may have heard a crime on one of the devices pick up lots of things despite the freak stories.

By 2019 amazon has sold over 100 million Alexa enabled devices you think of surveillance as a thing. That's bad that we all want to avoid. But Alexa is like, oh no, like I'm going to watch you and listen to you and it's only to make your life better and people find that very convenient and actually comforting. I tend to think that in a society in which we experience a deficit of care. This type of automated care and intimacy is actually something that people are very responsive to life is hard. You don't have enough time let Alexa and amazon more broadly make things more simple for you. I've never heard of this but before Alexa, America had amazon dash a big button you'd hit when you wanted something like a trained dog hitting a button to get a treat. I guess amazon have had a lot of good ideas while most online shopping has you filling an end this forms and always making you type in your three digit code. Amazon does the whole by now one click thing. It was a very smart thing that amazon did and super cheeky by the way to patent it. People were jumping up and down and screaming saying this is a thing you can patent, it's expired now but it did last for a while at least within the U. S.

Context. They had the patent long enough to get ahead in the game converting thousands of customers. And now here we are company sucking in. Even more customers like me accidentally addicted. Since I started watching amazon tv shows when they added prime video to the membership. It really turbocharged the membership. I think of what the person told me earlier in the street that they've just been to some kind of futuristic amazon store. The first of its kind you go in and there's one item of everything in the store, you scan it and they have the sizing and everything. They put it in a dressing room for you and it's really like a futuristic shopping experience. I realize it's not far from where I live. So I go along after seeing Top Gun at the movies, it's called amazon style and it's the company's first ever physical store for clothing. I walk in and a man explains how there's one item of everything out on display.

If I see something I like, I scan it with my phone and it will magically appear in addressing room for me. I get excited when I see a see through futuristic lift going up and down delivering clothes to a series of futuristic looking dressing rooms. But then I realized it's just a normal lift full of clothes. I imagine the chaos down below staff furiously grabbing items that shoppers are scanning up above a community of mole people living a subterranean life under the shop fulfilling the needs of everyone above. So yeah, I was going to cut in here. The store didn't blow my mind. It feels a bit fancy when you walk in, but it's just kind of like a lift shoving your selections up to the dressing rooms and people getting the hangers and like chucking them in the room. Okay, where is it? It's in Glendale isn't that big mall galleria? Yes, I saw top Gun for like the third time and then when I thought, oh, I think I remember that shops here and I sort of walked in. The very funny thing they have in there is that they have big posters of influencers who had never heard of and they're in like an outfit and it's like I want to look like this person and you scan it in and then it will deliver those close to a dressing room and you can dress up like them. Is it amazon produced clothing?

I don't know and I'm not a shopping expert. So I think there's brands in there, but the idea is they're all in one place, there's literally one of everything in the store. And because you're not taking off the hanger to try it on, it's always just going to be there and there's no size is just one of everything. The lights are very right in there. I felt very exposed. Was quite intense. Lots of people helping you teaching you how to scan. A wonderful thing because you need your phone to do the scanning. If you're low on charge, they've got charges. So it's a great little charging station. If you're sick of going into the Apple store. Think of so much.

They really do. I feel like the other thing amazon's doing with physical stores groceries. They're experimenting now with more like stores with groceries you can go in because food is hard to ship in the mail. Well they have amazon Fresh. There's like 50 of them I think around the U. S. There's not heaps but there's a few. Well wait, okay, so you're talking about physical stores that are amazon Fresh, okay? There's also amazon fresh online where you put your groceries in and someone delivers. Do you know about Instacart? I use Instacart. Is it like a similar thing?

What are the actual fresh stores like are they worth going to? I didn't know there were real stores. The stores. Yeah, you can walk in and you shop in there and it's your amazon. It's like a grocery store. I'm so glad that you don't know about them either. We should both go at some point and try and sample what these stores are like. I would love to because I'm curious how is it different from any old grocery store? There's something about how you buy the stuff is fancy and fresh. Maybe you're scanning something and is automatically going to your amazon account as opposed to a check out. So you just walk out with your stuff. Whole foods are starting to do that too.

Sorry, this isn't a whole foods episode. But there are certain locations. I think there's one in the valley where like something about the weight of the bags or something they can tell and you, you just leave and it scans the bags and then you're charged. I love that. It's crazy. There was a skit that saturday night live did with a bunch of people of color chopping and basically being like you're right amazon, I just get the stuff and walk out and that's going to be a good idea. Yeah. Good one guys. Exactly. That's hilarious. Yeah. What I was curious about from that is how do you feel about the whole listening devices in the phone in the home Alexa, that kind of thing.

My initial response is yikes, I really don't like that, I don't like the idea that they can hear us and they're monitoring but I'm not so naive, I carry this phone around all day long, it knows everything about me, It's done what's done is done so absolutely, and at this point I'm embracing it. I got this really cool instagram ad the other day that was right up my alley and I'm like like this, it knows what to give me. Yeah, it's serving up things that you really like supposed to junk so Alexa. I'm kind of like sure I will say this though, where I did that story was hilarious, that story about the girl, it was amazing. I think the kid requested like a challenge and challenge videos on the internet of this whole other awful genre of like some really weird stuff and Alexa just read out a page of a challenge which was just objectively would potentially kill you. That is so horrific, so horrific. You can't help but laugh at it and she didn't do it, so it's fine but my goodness, that's really extreme. But of course we're going to post that up. This is why it's bad and mostly that never, never, no, that's not happening to many Children online. I will say though where I do draw the line. There are kids robots now. Their educational friends.

We had eric Schmidt on from google and he was talking to us about this and since then I've seen one and I am so creeped out by that this little monster creature looking thing that looks really cute that your kid really likes and then begins to trust it's there to teach you stuff like that's the point of it and it can walk you off a cliff. Could you don't know what is going to potentially go haywire with this thing. Amazon has this thing called the astro home robots, Have you heard of this? I went and looked on amazon. They're about $1000. I think you've got to be invited to get it. But amazon is now launching these little robots that go in the house and from what I can tell. I don't know what they do. I think it's like it can vacuum, it can like do some home security. Its faces a screen is kind of trundling around. This is like the step up from Alexa. It's like putting Alexa into a robot and it just sort of trundles around vacuuming and keeping things secure.

It's a fancy vacuum cleaner, curious about the security because I could use some, we'll get a couple of those robots patrolling. Yeah. I don't think they're for public sale yet, but they're trialing them out, which is kind of fascinating. The other thing, there are those stories that I've read in the past about Alexa being brought into certain court cases because it's always listening when something horrific happens, Alexa obviously picks it up and records it and I may be incorrect on this. I should check but I believe Alexa at some point had a built in function where if there's like a lot of screaming or crazy noises, it just records it. I don't think it doesn't do anything about that would be great. It just records it and I believe that has been brought into some overseas court cases. So the idea of this thing listening potentially that could be a God, I don't know a good thing or a bad thing. It's like what's private? Exactly. That's the thing. Right?

That's the whole thing. Yeah. So I was working on a documentary in New Zealand and it was about a crazy person and I was always worried that they're going to come into the house and steal some hard drives. So I had a little security camera in my room that would record and it was like a motion sensor thing, it would go on to the survey and I could log in and I could see any time because I was living with other people. If anyone like a flatmate, I walked into my room to throw my washing on the bed or activate and I would see everything. So what happened though is I would occasionally go in there to get changed. I'd be naked, it would be recorded on the server and just be sitting there and then one time I was getting a bit paranoid and I was like, I hate the idea that my nude body is sitting on a server somewhere. So I went into the app and I clicked all the, clicked all the images. Right? And then I clicked delete, Are you sure? Yes. Did that About a year later I read on an article a problem someone had and it wasn't an amazon product.

It was another service. But what someone had found is that they've done the same thing as me and they found that you know how menus are in a certain order and you kind of automatically click a thing. Like deletes always sort of in a similar place. Yes and no is in a similar place where your brain thinks it's delete. It was actually another button and instead of delete it was a button that basically gave permission for these videos to be sent to the algorithm team to scan through to train the software on what it was looking at was a consent button. So basically any of the videos I deleted, instead of deleting them, I sent them and gave permission to the company to use these images of my new body to train the camera on what to do. So it's a very convoluted story. But I always think about that somewhere. There's probably like some tech in there who's just going to be like, oh God, some more naked photos and I'm not the only one that's done it because it's in this wrong place so much that someone who's complaining about it. But it's very funny that when, instead of delete you're saying, I'm going to send this video and give it permission for this team to use. That's very unethical. It's very unethical, but it wasn't amazon.

We still feel like we don't know what amazon think. I didn't realize in july there's an annual two day shopping event. It's already been gone called amazon prime day. Of course I knew America's love shopping. Stay tuned for more. Flightless Bird. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsors Flightless Bird is brought to you by article, I saw a comedian recently Monica who talked about how funny it is that as adults, we still have bedrooms and how important bedrooms are, We have them as small Children and then as adults we still have the sacred space that we retreat to and shut the door and it's ours and ours only. Exactly. And article has everything you need to turn your bedroom into the best room in the house offers cozy beds, swanky headboards and tons of lighting options to help you set the right tone. Okay, so I have these outdoor chairs that are so cozy cozy huge. It's hard to kind of get both where it's like looking sleek and good and they're big and cushioning and it's either one or the other. It looks great and it's the most uncomfortable thing of all time or it's comfortable and it looks like a mess.

So you've got both. You get both with article. It has the curation of a boutique furniture store but with the comfort and simplicity of shopping online, they also have fast affordable shipping available across the Usa and Canada and it's free on orders over $999. Article is offering our listeners $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more to claim, visit article dot com slash Bird and the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. That's A R. T. I. C L. E dot com slash Bird for $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. Alright, I'm gonna go back to the documentary and see what I learned. See as I walked around the amazon clothing store which was basically a glorified H and M. With more QR codes bo Burnham's Jeffrey Bezos song starts running through my head.

I find it both fascinating and depressing that while I scan items of clothing in front of me or order another cardboard box to my door. Bezos is locked in some kind of weird space race with the world's other richest man. Elon musk. Yes human. I mean bastos is the definition of the american dream starts with nothing selling books from his garage, he works hard. His company grows into one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world. I've been a reporter for more than 20 years now, Alex Macgillis has been keeping an eye on what that cultural force means for America and he's kind of worried about it. My work that probably goes all the way back to my growing up in a small city in western massachusetts called Pittsfield city. That's gone through a lot of decline over the years as a result of General Electric Pulling out Pittsfield used to be a very solidly middle class small city but has now fallen way behind boston in the eastern part of the state and in retail you have money in commerce and business activity that used to be spread all around the country and mom and pop stores and department store chains and regional chains. And so much of that business activity is now being hoovered into this other company that controls more than 40% of all e commerce amazon and the other tech giants are helping to drive this regional inequality. One big reason why we have such concentration of wealth and prosperity in certain cities in the US is that our economy has become so concentrated in certain companies, amazon is America's second largest private and employer next to walmart, it has around 1.6 million employees worldwide, walmart has 2.3 million. What alec points out in fulfillment.

His excellent book about amazon is how it's divided its workforce into various classes and plunked those classes in various american towns. So you have engineering towns in the warehouse towns and data center towns and amazon's presence in each place has a profound effect on the communities living there. They've witnessed massive displacement of longtime residents, often black residents that are now being driven out in Seattle. I focused on the story of this legendary Seattle neighborhood called the central district that was Seattle's black historic black neighborhood that produced all this extraordinary culture and especially music, Jimi, Hendrix Quincy jones, earnestine, Anderson, all these greats came from there and that neighbor is now virtually invisible. It's very hard to even find it now. So you have those headquarter cities on the one side and then on the other end, you have this much larger list of warehouse towns. Places like Baltimore, where I live or Dayton, Ohio Dayton was once a mecca of industrial innovation, home to the Wright Brothers at the beginning of the 20th century. It was its own kind of Silicon Valley. Now, it's focused On packaging up stuff that's made in other places, putting it all in those brown cardboard boxes, they were already so dominant here. And then just in that first year of the pandemic Gosh, their profits went up 40%, their stock nearly doubled. Bezos's personal wealth increased by 60 or 70 billion. They had to hire hundreds of thousands of more workers.

They increased their warehouse space by 50%. I mean, what you saw really was an embrace of the kind of one click form of living by many americans to a degree that arguably was even in excess of what the public health moment called for. It was as if the pandemic gave us permission to go whole hog in that direction. I'm often asked, am I arguing for some kind of a boycott or something? And no, I'm not. But I do. I believe that now that we are finally emerging from the pandemic, it is so important that we emerge also from our homes and that we get out of that sort of hunker down mode where everything is through the screen, not only in terms of our basic consumption, but in all other facets of life to that we return to our actual physical communities, go back to the theaters, go by back to the movies, go back to the restaurants and get out into the places we live in and support all the different aspects of these places that make them meaningful to us and make them nice places to live in. I have great concerns about how that hunkering down that we've been doing the last couple years has disrupted our social fabric and all sorts of ways going beyond even the effect on our local businesses. I think of nomad land, that Oscar winning film that had Frances, McDormand working in an amazon factory as a seasonal worker, I actually remember watching that scene and being surprised amazon let them film in that warehouse. I mean it wasn't exactly glamorous but I guess it could have been worse. It's almost like this warm Touchstone that the workers return to every christmas season. You see them socializing with each other and doing exercises together.

But it's basically a relatively benign depict And the producers were pretty open about the fact that in order to get permission to film in the warehouses that it was going to have to be present in a certain way. So yeah, they left out the bits where some warehouse employees had to walk up to 15 miles during a single shift vending machines on hand to spit out free painkillers but workers are pushing back making the news in June Amazon workers unionizing at the company's largest warehouse. Staten Island home to 8000 employees, 8,654 voted Yes to 2,131 knows Amazon is disputing the validity of the whole thing but it's a small miracle they unionized in the first place. One of the biggest hurdles really is the incredible turnover at the warehouses that turnover is so high at these warehouses, which is such a commentary on how tough the work is that even as they have now raised the Starting pay somewhat in the warehouse, they're still looking at roughly 100% turnover in the course of a given year and a lot of these places, how do you build solidarity when you don't even know each other whatsoever? Vox published a piece in June saying that Amazon's workforce turnover is so high that it could technically run out of people to hire by the year 2024 and Amazon actually encourages that high turnover. That's the key thing. They understand that one way to keep workers from building bonds is just to keep moving them through Alexi's two giant problems with amazon, the regional inequalities they produce and then the growing monopoly they have here in America of course, those two issues go hand in hand. We really have arrived right now at a moment similar to what we were facing in the early 20th century with giants like Standard Oil, those titans of industry, the Vanderbilts and JP Morgan's and Rockefeller who acquired wealth and power on an unimaginable scale. These massive monopolies that were strangling the american economy and really threatening democracy back then, of course, the country recognized what was happening and now we're at this moment again, I really feel like you're seeing it now with a sense of fraying of norms in all sorts of ways that we're seeing what happens when the local civic fabric gets so thin. And one reason for that thinness really is that we've allowed these giants to get as large as they have one person who probably doesn't care all that much about any of this. The rocket enthusiast himself. I met with a man who was one of the earliest investors in Amazon made a lot of money from that investment, but has become very, very, very skeptical of putting it mildly.

And we're talking about amazon's choice of second headquarters and why it had not thought harder about putting the headquarters in a city that could really use it. You know, ST louis or Cleveland or Baltimore and just what difference that would have made Right in one fell swoop. You could have made such a difference for these regional disparities. And so I asked him, why did he not consider that? And he just starts laughing. He said, you just don't understand Jeff Bezos. He simply doesn't think that way at all. He does. He's not thinking about what might be good for the country or what might be good for the common good. That's just not how he's thinking. It's all about the company. It's all about the bottom line.

I think it's safe to say that Amazon is here to stay while Bezos is no longer Ceo, he'll probably be around for a while to earlier this year. He threw a load of money behind Alto's a biotech company that wants secure aging by the year 2042. He'll probably outlive all of us up circling in space with musk living forever. I checked back in with Emily West, the marketing expert who has also just written a book about amazon hers is called by now I will point people towards your book, which I guess ironically you can get your book off amazon. This audio gear we sent you for this episode was probably off amazon right? It did both. The packages came from amazon. I wanted to know if amazon was doing anything right. Basically I want to feel less guilty for all my amazon shopping. Emily points out that in 2018 amazon led retailers in establishing a new minimum wage, $15 an hour. Then the company put its average starting salary up to $18 an hour. They have paid parental leave, something that's given in new Zealand but apparently a real novelty here in America and they're trying to counter all their bad class statistics like emitting over 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year.

The same as setting 100 and 40 million barrels of oil on fire according to Fortune magazine. Amazon's carbon footprint has risen every year since 2018. I am really interested in amazon's climate record and its public relations efforts in this area. So they have this track record of being not transparent at all and kind of the black sheep of the tech world when it came to carbon accountability and transparency. They just did a pivot not that long ago to say now we're going to be a leader in climate corporate accountability and they co founded this organization with a nonprofit called the climate pledge. So this is where a corporation pledges to get to net zero carbon by 2040 which is 10 years earlier than the paris accord, so that basically like we're going to do it better than the paris climate accord. They have the brand sponsorship of an arena in Seattle it's not amazon arena, it's not prime arena, it's not Alexa arena, it's the climate pledge arena, but we're all still talking about amazon, aren't we? I mean the arena just got them more news coverage, pro move amazon the look inside the newest professional sports venue in the country and its game changing design, climate pledge arena just opened in Seattle. Amazon paid an estimated half a billion dollars to name the arena, but instead of putting the company's name on it, amazon decided to raise awareness about the effects of climate change amazon unlike its tech competitors, the materiality of it is very evident to all of us. Yes, facebook and google have their data centers and so does amazon, but we see the amazon trucks, we see the amazon boxes, they have a higher mountain to climb I think in many ways I can see why they feel they need to get ahead of it, but I'm just interested in how meaningful this really is. Is it? A lot of pr is it about trying to own the carbon accountability piece to discourage being regulated by an actual government that would restrain them in some way with all its talk of climate.

I think of Bezoza blasting off into space, thanking his employees for the privilege and he thanked me too loyal amazon customer. I want

to thank every amazon employee and every amazon customer because you guys paid for all this so seriously for every amazon customer out there and every amazon employee, thank you From the bottom of my heart,

It's nice being thanked by someone with $132 billion. I'm so glad I could help a young upstart fulfill his dreams. How do you feel about him thanking customers for blasting him up into space, Do you feel proud? I don't know, I just feel at this point like he can't do anything, right? My gut reaction is to want to protect No, but you know what I mean? And I think I do think part of this has to do with the fact that I am around public figures. I'm close to public figures. There is a real, real, real downside to it. And that is what I started off saying, people like making you the villain at some point and then everything you do just starts to reiterate that narrative. Like when she just said the thing about I don't know about this climate thing is it just a pr move. I'm like, who cares, who cares if it's a pr doing it they're doing it is a thing the result of them doing it is going to be so helpful. It doesn't matter if they're doing it to make people think they're good or bad they are doing, it would be one thing if they were like, we're going to do this, and they haven't done a thing, they made these pages, the money, they're putting electric cars on the road, making the changes that need to be made.

So, I'm like, great. I don't know, I just think all the bashing just gets a little old for me, but they're hearing it, and I'm sure they're just trying to fix it, because it's making them look bad. That's why everyone fixes everything about themselves, That's why anyone does anything because it's a big motivator not to be seen as a ship head. Exactly. I don't think he's wrong in doing that. I mean, I'm so cynical and I think it's very easy to fall into cynicism with anything especially within wealthy people, right? You want to tear them down. I know, which is such a bummer, because everyone wants to be that even with small businesses, you don't think they want to be selling, like amazon is selling. Of course they do. Everyone wants to be that massive. Everyone does when you have a baby you wanted to grow up and be successful and be huge it's pretty naive to think that the small business didn't have that opportunity, They wouldn't take it. I think it's the idea of the size of that baby and how big it gets right, which is a whole other discussion about wealth and where it goes because when his most recent net worth is 100 and $31 billion which is just objectively too much for any one person to hold.

I mean it's a problem with the way I suppose society is set up where so much wealth is with one person. I think that's why it's so easy to turn the targets on someone because you're like just at a human level, it seems wrong that you have over $100 billion when there's so much other terrible stuff going on. And it is really interesting and it's something I hadn't really thought about where amazon decides to drop a warehouse or drop a data center, how much it just changes the social fabric of that place. I'm kind of fascinated by that and Amazon is not the only company doing that, but I guess it's one of the bigger ones and that becomes kind of tricky as well. It does become tricky. But I do wonder there was some talking out of both sides of their mouth in the dock because first it was like, oh no, they've put a warehouse in this beloved area and it's kind of changed the landscape of the area. That's sort of the types of people how that city functions and what the jobs, right? But then he's mad that it's not getting put in Baltimore and X, Y and Z places where it's being placed. Yeah. That his second headquarters wasn't in another city as a positive, right? So it's like a lose lose situation. You can't argue against the fact that there is job creation in those factories and people need jobs and they are providing jobs, the turnover, you know, that's rough, not great for unionizing.

The other thing that I do find fascinating and it's kind of separate to this issue is that the world's two most wealthy men are both pretty obsessed with space travel I guess. I mean we all kind of want to go to space I suppose. But it's interesting, they're both really invested and they're both literally building the vessels to get them into space. Not only that, but both of them are kind of obsessed with living forever. And you've got Bezos who is kind of going old school and I understand from this company has invested in looking at our D. N. A. Strands basically turning off the aging and just figuring out how to tamper with our actual bodies so that we can live forever. Whereas what musk is doing and I'm so fascinated by this. And it's the one thing about musk that I kind of deeply admire is this neural link thing he's got going on where he's putting a little chip in the brain. So the idea at the moment, in the way it's been kind of reported on is that it will help people who may be paralyzed or can't move. Probably chip in the brain will then power technology that could move their wheelchair or let them walk or amazing technology.

But really what musk is trying to do ultimately in his master plan and it's been written about by people that are incredibly smart is that essentially once you've got a chip in the brain eventually you will be able to interface directly with the internet. So the internet will then just be like permanently on in your brain. The next step of that, there's two things one of them is you can potentially if the chips in the brain and we figure out how the brain works, you can just upload your consciousness onto the cloud so you can leave the body and live forever on the internet, which is one really trippy idea. The other thing they call it like the wizard hat theory is that at some point and we're very off topic. But when artificial intelligence hits and computers and technology suddenly become a million times smarter. When we hit this thing called the singularity become a million times smarter than humans, humans will just be essentially wiped out, technology will just turn on us. We're not needed will be like an aunt to them will be off to the side. The only way we can really like actively survive is if we merge with the ai. So part of musk's idea of putting a chip in the brain is not only getting us connected to the internet and putting the internet in our brain, but also once we hit A. I. Is putting that ai inside the human brain as well. Either in the brain physically in little brain mush or out in the cloud and it gets really trippy.

And I just love that musk is essentially trying to escape the body by putting the little neural link in and putting us into the cloud. And Bezos is more looking at changing our potentially our D. N. A. So that our actual physical bodies can live on for like hundreds of years. And my question to you is like the worst round of all time, would you prefer to have your body stopped where it is right Right now and you just live in that body for the next 500 years. Your friends that can't afford the procedure, they're all dying left, right and center. Or would you prefer your it'll be expensive. So you know, you can afford it but your friends, a lot of them can't afford it and they're just going to drop off and die or would you prefer to have a little chip in the brain and just upload your consciousness onto the Internet, leave your body and your sort of an all knowing entity that has all the power of the internet in your brain and you're no longer constrained by your body. You're just sort of in the internet and everyone can afford that. No, it's still just you then. I don't even have to think about this for more than a half a millisecond.

The first one. D N. A 100%. Really? Oh my God. Yeah. And also we've had a few people on armchair expert talking about this. This is like on the horizon there, like looking at how to really address the epa genome and I'm leaving the body the second I can I'm sick of it. I always get frustrated to get anywhere. I've got to transport my brain somewhere else by walking or getting on a plane. I go back to New Zealand. I've got to get my brain, I've got to walk into the airport, got to work to an uber, get on the plane, sit, move my brain to New Zealand on 12 hour flight.

I would much rather just be digital and in the internet knowing everything. Get rid of the body. You don't need it. No, I hate I hate this. Come and bug you through your election. Oh my God, also you started out, I think maybe I'm making this up by saying it makes us lazy prime and you want to literally leave your body. I'm sick of moving. I'm sick of moving around its primes fault. I've gotten so lazy just having these cardboard boxes appear. I'm just sick of moving at all now I don't want to move from the front door to get the box. Oh my goodness, wow. I think that makes me more american.

I feel like it definitely does. It definitely doesn't. You want to leave your body but continue to live? Absolutely. I do think I can make a armchair theory as to why those two want to go to space and want to live forever. It's like they've done the impossible. They have proven to themselves that the impossible is possible. So now they're in other areas that seem impossible. And to them, they're like, no, it could be a reality. I've already done it once. Yeah, we've done this crazy thing. I'm the richest man in the world and the second richest man in the world.

Obviously we're going to do something else. Crazy and big. So aim high. I started a bookstore in my garage and look at it now, why wouldn't I be able to go to space? We get trained by our accomplishments and our failures. And so if you're them, anything is possible like dream big go big. They're still dreaming Exactly what I get slightly concerned about is when they're the ones that are pushing the technology and talking about colonizing other planets and stuff and I'm thinking, you always think about who you want at your dinner party and I always worry about like who do you want in your party colonizing mars? Like do you want it to be like musk and whoever he's dating at the moment? Do you know what I mean? Are they the people to be pushing? But that's the thing that they're doing it and you have to kind of admire that on some level, Interstellar. I'm so glad you watched that.

How does that sound track? All right, well you're 100% american now. Stop this show and I think we're going to because I don't think I would want to do a show with a non bodied you you just like the audio into the editing software and I'll just be there. You don't like that. What about intimate? I hate intimacy is confusing, but when you know everything, when you've got the power of the internet in your brain, I think it'll all just be fine. Who needs a body, bodies are gross. I was picturing them all