Today I read an article by Drew Austin in Real Life Mag called The Constant Consumer that addressed some of the same concerns that I have wrestled with in my recent discussions with Scott and Mats.
The ostensible topic of the piece centres around Amazon’s long term plans, and the social effects that they will have. He points out that
Amazon similarly merges the customer and the user within its own optimized environments, letting these subjects exist at the center of an ever-expanding system. Imagine an avid Amazon customer’s typical day living with a near future iteration of the platform: He wakes up and speaks his first words of the morning to his Amazon Echo in the kitchen, asking Alexa to order toothpaste after noticing he was running low. Upon checking his email, he gives Alexa a few more instructions, adding social engagements and reminders to his calendar, checking the weather, and finally opening the garage door once he’s ready to leave for work. At the office throughout the day, idle shopping fills his distracted moments. He browses books, clothing, and even furniture, placing orders within seconds, many of which automatically appear in his shopping cart based on patterns from his activity history (he even knows that some of what he buys will be waiting at home tonight). During the evening commute another Alexa-enabled device in his car prompts him to send his sister a birthday card, an action he asks Alexa to do for him. He stops by Whole Foods to pick up groceries — as an Amazon Prime member, it’s always the most cost-effective option in his neighborhood. He arrives home to find a variety of Amazon packages stacked neatly on the living room coffee table, delivered throughout the day by part-time contractors who let themselves into the house via the smart lock on the front door. The soundtrack to his entire day is provided by Amazon Music, in which his Prime membership has automatically enrolled him for a small monthly fee. Few parts of this hypothetical day, which is already within the realm of possibility, remain untouched by Amazon’s user experience.
He argues that, in this and other ways, “Amazon, as much as any single company, is transforming the environments in which we live and embedding itself within the fabric of daily existence”.
This becomes the point where my concerns and Drew Austin’s merge. Amazon, in effect, have assumed the power to change the nature of human agency, or (perhaps more accurately) to affect the media landscape or sensorium within which human agency occurs, and thus change the nature of human agency.