A little too convenient?

I’ve had Kindles for years and think they’re great. But you could say you don’t really own the books you’ve bought on your Kindle, you’re just leasing them for as long as Amazon lets you. (See You don’t own your Amazon Kindle eBooks and One more reminder that you don’t own the books on your Kindle.) But that’s ok, because buying and reading books on your Kindle is just so convenient, right?

Here’s a great article on another of Amazon’s really convenient products.

Amazon owns my Echo; I’m just feeding it
Obviously, Amazon’s comfort in 2018 in building and shipping a Trojan horse like this is all my fault. I should’ve protested more a decade ago when Apple decided it was the king of iPhone software. When it decided what apps are allowable, which retail activities in those apps are allowable, and how much of a cut it gets from every microtransaction. I feel complicit and guilty, too eager to have a phone that works well to protest Apple’s obvious infringement on my rights to self-determine how my technology works.

The App Store was a trade, some might say a fair trade: Apple controls what software can be on your phone, and you get some safety and quality. When Amazon started making consumer hardware, it chose the same path. After all, people don’t want choices, they want simplicity and ease of use. Amazon started off closed with the Kindle, and it never opened up from there.

How did we get here? Where did this continual search for the most convenient option come from? And how something that was supposed to liberate us end up restricting us?

The tyranny of convenience
Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.

[…]

So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.

I wonder what Alexa would say about that.

Why we may soon be living in Alexa’s world
This is not the best outcome for the future; it would be better for all of us if the next computing platform didn’t come from one of the current tech giants, and if start-ups didn’t have to rely on Amazon or Google for this key piece of tech. But that seems unlikely. If Alexa is headed for ubiquity, it’s good that Google may be, too.

Author: Terry Madeley

I work with student data and enjoy reading about art and design, data, education and technology.