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Sunday, April 5th, 2015 08:34 am
So The Worst Things for Sale, a historically grumpy and hilarious misser-of-points about household objects, alerted me to the impending Amazon Dash button dystopia, and then I went looking for other opinions and some dude (significant) bloviating about how we'll miss those moments of emotional openness and vulnerability and quiet reflection that we used to find while shopping for more trash bags. Ian Crouch seems like a historically grumpy fellow as well, and I don't want to deny him his fun. And of course I have my questions about the Internet of Things, namely that the parts involved in making a coffee maker semi-sentient, or littering your house with individual, disposable plastic buttons with wifi transmitters contain a lot of ecologically complex metals and have to be manufactured by somebody.

At the same time, it's appealing to rant about the idea that we need to be emotionally available to our trash bag purchasing, and I'm going to do so. I don't feel like I even need to expand on the hilariousness of a mans talking about how a historically female task needs to be harder so that we can put more heart into it and have genuine human experiences, and I really love that the metric for historically female tasks that we need to put heart into has moved all the way from "making all the family's bread by hand" to "driving to Super Target for toilet paper." That is the gasping flail of a losing argument if ever I heard one, and I love it.

Second, saying people need to be more emotionally available to their purchases so that they can really think about ecology and consumption seems as disingenuous as the argument that we should all have our headphones off on the bus so that we can be genuine and available for real moments of human connection. On the bus, the people waiting to fill that gap aren't beautiful humans who want to talk about life with us, they're skeezy dudes who hit on strangers on buses. In a commercial environment, opening your mind and heart to the question "is this the toilet paper multipack for me?" is not a moment when a baby seal appears to tell you about global warming, it's a gap that marketing is carefully designed to fill IMMEDIATELY with enough conflicting and hard-to-parse information that you'll hopefully get overwhelmed and just start flinging things into your cart. The annual advertising revenue of the United States of America was 581 billion dollars in 2014. Going into a store ready to really have a moment of reflection about your TP choice is like showing up at a pickup artist's convention carrying a sign that says I REALLY HATE MYSELF.

Legitimate criticisms: since the buttons are presently sponsored by brand names, they are completely a clever way to keep you from realizing that Maxwell House doesn't make the best or the cheapest coffee, for example. It's an interesting move, in the ecology of product marketing, to give you a device whose specific job is to isolate you not just from the store but also from competitive products on Amazon. It reminds me of leafcutter ants herding aphids for their sweet aphid milk. It's really fascinating, and, yes, that is legitimately dystopian. And I do have to wonder how many people, even in fairly well-off places, can just buy household goods randomly without needing to fit them into a budget. It seems like the kind of idea that's best supported by linking your Amazon account to a high-limit credit card, which introduces completely separate issues. It's really interesting to think of the relationship that you'd have with a washing machine that buys itself detergent and makes you install the cartridges. It kind of feels like reinventing livestock; once upon a time, we got some ruminants and selectively bred them until they gave us cheese when we fed them hay, and now we've done the same with the W/D set.
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