From infantilism to Dadaism: a reflection on Amazonization and the destruction of meaning. By Andrew Smart
The anarchist academic David Graeber recently Tweeted the results of survey which revealed that 37% of Britons think their job is meaningless. Furthermore, only half of British people think their job is actually meaningful. The increasing absurdity of our jobs seems to correlate with the number of hours and brutal stress workers must endure. Apparently upper management thinks that the less meaningful a job is – the harder you must work at it! It might be slowly dawning on the executives though that their own jobs are in fact the most meaningless.
I am going to make a daring bet: everyone who toils away in an awful work culture at a large soul-eating and meaningless corporation – whether it’s in the tech industry or any industry – secretly wishes the New York Times would write an exposé of all the assholeish bullshit that goes on every day at their company. Mid-level managers who wield the flimsy authority their meaningless jobs afford them like a toddler wields a sucker nobody else got. Meaningless motivational posters about “innovation initiatives” “quality matters” “integrity and ethical behavior” hanging everywhere you look. Oh and timelines, metrics about the timelines, timelines for the metrics, and metrics, metrics. And more metrics… with timelines.
Technology enables the accelerating commodification of human beings – to a large company infected with advanced end-stage SAP humans are literally nothing more than numbers in cells in spreadsheets in databases in some crappy servers. Amazon is perfecting continuous employee monitoring and taking it to Matrix-level evil, and managers at large companies are increasingly behaving like Agent Smiths who say the equivalent of, “as you can see we’ve had our eye on you for some time now Mr. Anderson”. Has Amazon’s own program Smith grown beyond Jeff Bezos’ control?
As employees are reduced to meaningless metrics, customers it seems are reduced to infants. According to the recent NYT article, “A customer was able to get an Elsa doll that they could not find in all of New York City, and they had it delivered to their house in 23 minutes”. The Amazon employee cites this as an example of something to be proud of – as if this kind of ridiculous use of human and technological capabilities is somehow good or useful. FFS, WTF, and SMH. We live in a world where a person can get that ridiculous doll delivered to their house faster than an ambulance would arrive in response to you having a stroke.
Multiply this kind of childish request by hundreds of millions and you have a pretty decent description of the very meaningless dystopia Bezos claims not to recognize. The slave labor required to produce the dolls, the cost of Frozen movie (which is after all just a commercial for the dolls), and the burned out terrified Amazon employees obsessed with satisfying spoiled parents’ intention to spoil their children – are very much reminiscent of the kind of nihilistic and atomized society depicted in dystopian Sci-Fi. We are living in it, people.
It is hard to imagine something more meaningless than a group of otherwise intelligent and vibrant human beings collaborating to deliver a doll in record time. If achieving these heights of absurdity were goal from the outside, like some kind of modern cool Dadaist performance, it would be one thing; however Jeff Bezos wants us to take this kind of absurd business extremely seriously. The saddest part is that it seems that very man people do take it seriously – and then we wonder why we work at such meaningless jobs. Ask yourself; are the tasks that you must accomplish to get a good annual performance review at your job similar to delivering a doll to someone in 23 minutes?
Andrew Smart’s new book, Beyond Zero and One, is published by OR Books. Click here to read more.