Essay

I Click, Therefore I Amazon

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Click, there goes another twenty-eight --

Click, there goes another twenty-eight --

Click, there goes another twenty-eight bucks!

With apologies to Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's wonderful "High Hopes," that's a pretty good description of yours truly bankrupting himself on the infernal Internet cash-vacuum known as one-click buying. This is a methodology by which we sheep -- consumers, in the parlance of the business pages -- donate all our monies, our kids' futures, our vacation plans, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our spouses (I told her she should never have married me!) to a giant corporation run by a Princeton guy in the smuggest city on earth, Seattle. Have you heard of it? It's called Amazon.com.

The way one-click works, if you're from Mars, a Luddite or have a fear-of-machine issue, is too simple. You preload your credit card number and shipping address into the Amazon system -- similar systems can be found on other shopping sites -- trusting them not to sell it to pornographers or Democrats, and they arrange things so that by sliding your mouse to the one-click icon, it then just takes the merest half-inch, one-ounce pressure to purchase, that is, to service your desire. It takes no strength, no wisdom, no forethought, nothing but the raw human impulse to spontaneously acquire. You want, you get, not instantly but within a time frame where memory of impulse lingers, so that when it arrives three days later you won't be thinking "Why the hell did I buy that?" so much as "At last!" -- three days being pretty "at last" in our modern age. They are so smart in the way they cater to human weakness, bad judgment, poor taste.

Agh, how I hate them.

I hate them to the breadth and depth of their knowledge of my weakness, I hate them for the insidious way they have entered my head so as to loot my pockets, wallet and retirement, I hate them for the shrewd psychology of the sheep-class of buyers, I hate them for their snarky refusal to answer e-mail or put a human face on their devilish ways.

You want them to at least give interviews, where Herr Ingineur Dr. Werner Von Grappo-Heime, Amazon director of marketing, says, "Yes, yes, it's so funny to watch these little tiny protoplasms one-clicking their fortunes away for products they absolutely do not need! Ve sit around the office in Seattle, drinking our delicious coffee, laughing at the fools who cannot stop giving us their money, hungering, from the darkest parts of their soul, to denude themselves financially for our benefit. Faster, faster, Dieter needs a new pony!" But no: only corporate silence, superb software, the quiet hum of the efficient future mulching the imperfect present. Here's the scary part: I once toured the building in Seattle. It was full of kids!

Anyway, one-click has ruined me in a number of vile ways; it's the House of the Rising Sun for aging baby boomers. Shoes? Do you really need, does anybody really need, a pair of Polo Italian Party Suedes and a pair of Belgian Party Suedes, especially someone who almost never gets invited to parties? But there they are, gathering dust magnificently in my closet from what I call the Summer of the Shoe. Oh, and they thought I was working hard here at The Washington Post. Look at Steve, the movie critic. What a valuable employee he is, bent over, tappity-tappity-tapping away. What an obedient employee he is.

Yes, during the summer of the shoe, he was utterly obedient -- to Amazon, which cleverly seduced him (that treacherous femme fatale of an innocently labeled "More to Explore" click! or maybe it was "More of Your Favorites" or "What Do Customers Buy After Buying this Item?") over to the Polo Web site -- it's a conspiracy!! At Polo, a virtual slave trafficker in human self-delusions, they threw up gay images of parties in Italy and Belgium where Steve, in his dashing three-piece white linen suit, with his pale yellow silk cravat, his straw Borsalino, his face lean and tan, is always at the center of attention. Oh Steve, you are so witty (click) and, deuce it all, so damned dashing (click!)

But of course, the real subject of this cri de coeur isn't the shoes or the ties or the trench coats or the unworn Armani double-breasted suit in which I would look just like Sonny Crockett, except for the fat and bald part. Nor is it a host of other obsessions that have come and gone, like Japanese swords (expensive), Airsoft BB guns (cool!) and '50s war novels (nostalgic). No, it's the movies.

For it is the movies -- the books about movies and the music from movies and pictures of movies -- that really break your back and leave you spent and broke on the road the next morning, like a sailor who blew all his pay in a whorehouse and now can't even remember if he was sober enough to get the deed done or not.


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