Here’s how it works: Starting today, members of Amazon’s two-day delivery service can pre-order a kit that includes an Amazon security camera called the “Cloud Cam” and a compatible smart lock. Once you install the lock and the camera (inside your house! Within 25 feet of the door!), you’ll be able to access an “in-home” shipping option for your Amazon purchases. When a delivery driver arrives, Amazon will verify the address and time and let them in. Amazon Key owners will be able to watch them from their phones, as the camera records the whole thing. They plan to expand this access to professional service providers such as dog walkers and maids.
Brilliant, right? So convenient. Now you’ll never have to wait around to meet the mailman or worry about getting a package stolen off your porch. What else could you possibly want?, asks your benevolent e-commerce overlord. (Note: The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos. JB, if you’re reading this, I am a Prime member!)
As it turns out, I want a lot more than that.
The thought processes of Silicon Valley innovators are a curious thing. Many observers have noted that the most common proposals seem to fall into the category of “things that I, a 25-year-old man, wish that I could still get my mother to do for me.” But even more eyebrow-raising is the fact many of these ideas share a curious misunderstanding of the average person’s hierarchy of goods — what things matter to them, and how much. It may come as a surprise to those who are willing to live in Google’s parking lot and drink Soylent meal replacement instead of eating real food, but some of us care about more than just convenience.
Examples of this mismatch abound. Take Bodega, a start-up idea that was floated (and promptly sank) just a few weeks ago. Its object was to put mom-and-pop corner stores out of business by selling nonperishable convenience goods out of unmanned “pantry boxes” (read: vending machines) that would be located in high-density areas such as college dorms and apartment buildings. So convenient, right? It’s fast, it’s cheap, and you wouldn’t have to make eye contact with a judgmental cashier as you paid for six pounds of candy corn, not that your correspondent has any experience with that.
Except it turned out that convenience and anonymity weren’t everyone’s highest goods. Apparently some people wanted to walk down the street and interact with others. Maybe they weren’t interested in killing local jobs in service of a giant machine that would sit in their lobby. Perhaps they even valued the diversity and sense of community that a neighborhood mom-and-pop could bring over innovation for innovation’s sake.
Then there was the ignominiously recalled Juicero, a machine that would make individual pours of cold-pressed juice using home-delivered produce packets and WiFi-enabled home machinery. Admittedly convenient, if juice was your thing. But it turned out that the average person valued having a non-exorbitant grocery budget (the Juicero machine cost $400, and each juice packet $5 to $8) and not feeling like they’d been scammed by overeager marketing teams (it turns out that the Tesla-strength machine wasn’t even necessary to squeeze the packets) over a convenient glass of juice. Who could have guessed?
Amazon Key is perhaps the most outre example of this phenomenon yet. Yes, I do value convenient deliveries, but I value my security more — better to strategize around postal schedules than be assaulted by a person hiding in one’s home! And while I dislike rained-upon packages, I prioritize privacy enough that I’m loath to install a corporate-controlled surveillance apparatus inside my house.
New technologies are often packaged as amenities we shouldn’t have to live without, and any trade-offs are made to seem meager in the face of potential comfort. But there’s more to life than convenience — maybe someone should let Silicon Valley know.