John Herrman: What Will Service Work Look Like Under Amazon?
The New York Times, July 18, 2017
As far as holidays go, Prime Day is contrived, crass and extremely effective (the company’s ‘‘biggest day ever,’’ it says). This is not a venue for voting with your wallet or cultivating a consumer identity. It’s about clicking a button that initiates a mysterious process carried out by teams of invisible laborers and automated processes and results in a package at your door within two days. That package will contain one or more products that were probably built in a special economic zone in a faraway country; transported by ship, truck or perhaps one of Amazon’s newly leased ‘‘Prime Air’’ planes; warehoused and waiting in one of the company’s gargantuan and strategically placed fulfillment centers;
Through the WI Lens
Amazon has rewritten the rules of today’s service economy and that of tomorrow. It focuses on domination of the marketplace, and is not in the business of providing any sort of abstract benefit to society beyond the lowering of prices and the delivery of goods. The company has never sort to project a rosy vision of the future of service labour and most likely never will. Amazon warehouse work is hard, often subcontracted to the gig economy and kept out of sight of consumers. Its work culture is unapologetically ruthless, including at its corporate office.
How will Amazon’s dominance affect the industries at the crossroad of hospitality and wellbeing? In general terms, Amazon constitutes an extreme case of the disruptive power of technology: for any business in the retail industry, it is reshaping the landscape on its own terms, wreaking a huge amount of “creative destruction” in the process. The first lesson is this: businesses that do not innovate and fail to harness the power of technology will suffer the same fate as traditional retail, regardless of the industry they may be in. But, for the hospitality and wellbeing industries, there are two very significant differences: (1) in contrast to an Amazon customer, more of their consumers want to understand what’s going on behind the scenes: where the product came from, how and by whom it was sourced, whether the business is ethical and sustainable, etc. In short, they are seeking a “story” around the service; (2) they are looking for face-to-face interaction and the “human touch” that tech cannot deliver. As the world becomes digital, the greater the appetite for personal interaction that is real, not intermediated by a machine or an algorithm. This will place a premium on wellbeing in the years to come.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.