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Life without Amazon (well, almost)

“Ten years ago, we weren’t ordering toilet paper from Amazon,” Smalls said. “This may also be the time it will take to recover.”

Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, was interviewed by The New York Times in 2012 in an article about customers leaving Amazon. Dr Pollack, who teaches public health, said at the time: “I don’t think they behave in a way that I want to support with my consumption money.” He has since slammed Amazon, including, in 2018, an op-ed titled “Better Ways for Jeff Bezos to Spend $ 131 Billion,” urging Mr. Bezos to divert his “earnings” to philanthropy rather than travel in space. (In 2020, that figure would be somewhere north of $ 180 billion.)

Reached by phone, Dr Pollack said his reviews of Amazon had both broadened and deepened, but that he was also now a frequent customer. “It’s repressing,” he said, when asked to reconsider his position. “I use Amazon more in my life than I really feel comfortable with. It’s part of the infrastructure of my life in the same way as the infrastructure of other people’s lives, during Covid in particular.

Dr Pollack then proposed a new analysis, which attempted to incorporate, or at least recognize, its ambivalence. “I think my own trajectory is emblematic of why there have to be public policy solutions to this problem,” he said, referring to concerns about antitrust, Amazon’s larger place. in the economy and, as was its objective in 2012, the well-being of the company and the workforce. Amazon, he said, presents a “huge collective action problem.”

The company has infiltrated inexorably further into his life. Using Amazon makes it easier to get labor refunds. Amazon gift cards have become de facto standard incentives for study participants (despite the concern of some fellow researchers). Plus, like most people, Dr. Pollack is busy.

“Amazon offers tremendous value to consumers that allows us to look beyond a lot of things,” he said. Going forward, he plans to “do the easy things that make me minimize my addiction to Amazon and feel good about it, but I basically won’t do the things that are less easy.” And if I’m being honest, you can’t count on me to discipline the business.

Mr Smalls, the former warehouse worker, offered a gentle, practiced approach to customers like Dr Pollack: Using Amazon could be like addiction, or at least something that requires withdrawal. In an interview earlier this year, however, he was perhaps more candid about the company’s regular consumers. “Think you need Amazon?” he said in April, shortly after his dismissal. “OK, what were you doing a few years ago?”

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