Sunday, 9 February 2014

Customers who bought this item

I’m not sure why, but in a bored moment I went on Amazon to track all my past orders, to see if it could tell me something about what I’ve actually been doing for the last 15 years of my life. I discovered that the first book I bought on Amazon was on 25 March 1999: Cynthia Ozick’s Fame and Folly. That was back in the days when the internet was steam-powered and you had to dial it up and it tutted for a bit and then responded if it felt like it. I bought 13 items in 1999 and things carried on at that manageable pace for the next few years. As late as 2006, I only put in 11 orders. I must have still been two-timing Amazon with bookshops, an online-shopping commitment-phobe. I kidded myself that I was a recreational user, that I could kick the habit any time I wanted. But then things got out of control. I started buying birthday and Christmas presents and non-books, weird things like earplugs and hot water bottles. Perhaps the tipping point came when I bought my first big ticket item, an iPod, on 20 January 2007. There was no going back from there. Last year I put in 87 orders – and they often included multiple items. Yes, I am the reason your indie bookshop closed down. It’s my fault that low-paid workers have to walk 20 miles a day in vast warehouses to fetch my orders while computers track their every move. I claim to be angry about big companies employing vast teams of accountants to dodge corporation tax – but as it turns out, I’m not.

It’s an evocative and slightly melancholy list. By clicking through the years I can see my nephew and niece growing up: Doctor Who Sonic Screwdrivers and Harry Potter Interactive Wands give way to Nintendo Wii games and One Direction pencil cases. I can see all my brief passions and interests flame up and then fizzle out. I note that I have bought five USB sticks, as they progressively get lost or they become bent and decrepit. Every single order I put in, in some small way, was an investment in the future. I must have thought on some level that it would make me more knowledgeable, more productive, more interesting to others, happier.

That was my life in 548 orders.


  1. You could try to read:
    The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone.
    It's a thoroughly depressing book. A heartless enterprise with the mentality of Aldi / Walmart combined with the Internet power of Google. A capitalist steamroller destroying everything in it's path while being lead by a Stalin-like funtional psychopath. I still order my books at my local bookshop. Who cares if I have to wait two weeks for it. Once it's gone it will never come back.

  2. As uarios says, Amazon is not some benign shop keeper. It 's reported that it's now planning on moving into groceries. High street beware!

  3. Couldn't agree more.

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