P063: Weep Not For the Luddite, Weep For Those Who Accidentally Read Their #HotTakes

It’s the last day of March and out of nowhere comes Amazon Dash, tiny buttons that allow for real world one-click reordering of products you use frequently. Riding on top of that infrastructure is the Dash Replenishment Service – an API that will (eventually) allow for smart appliances to automatically order physical goods when supplies are running low. Of course, this being the internet, there were a thousand dumb jokes about this being an early April Fools Day prank and then a thousand curmudgeons lamenting This Modern World. Of all these dumb takes, the dumbest that I saw was Seth Fiegerman’s faux-Andy Rooney temper tantrum that took a fundamental misunderstanding of the product and built a half-assed paean to the Good Old Days on top of it. Because I’m feeling a little feisty today, I’m going to blow up Fiegerman’s article and then point you at the best anti-Luddite argument ever put to hypertext.

Take it away, Seth Fiegerman

Let’s start with the headline:

“Amazon’s strange new Dash Button for impulse-ordering: ‘Indeed, it is real'”

In a headline, a single quoted passage following a colon denotes attribution of a direct quotation. In this case, the strange new Dash Button has become sentient enough to talk about itself in the third person. We really do live in the future. After a bland intro, Fiegerman continues (emphasis mine):

“This may seem, to some, to be an excess of convenience. Few people have complained, as of yet, about the laborious walk to a laptop where they have to sweat and agonize over Amazon’s “one-click” shopping button.”

If every sentence requires a qualifier, just admit you’re writing an editorial piece and not a news story. Just three paragraphs later, Fiegerman drops the charade entirely:

“Amazon has long been trying to turn our lives into one never-ending impulse shopping experience, but this effort sounded almost too literal. That, combined with the fact it was announced one day before April Fools’ Day, may explain why many on Twitter questioned if the buttons were simply a joke.”

While I commend the author for getting the “April Fools Day” keyword in there for SEO purposes, there is no coherent reading of the Dash Button that would indicate that it is an impulse-oriented shopping experience in anything other than the most literal definition of the word “impulse.” It is true that pressing the Tide Dash Button when you are almost out of laundry detergent does satisfy a strong and unreflective desire to act, but the pejorative nature of the term is what leads Fiegerman astray. Dash Button isn’t encouraging reckless consumption of CPG – it’s placing the solution to a problem literally next to the problem itself. Combine that with Amazon Prime infrastructure and you have a consumer experience that literally no other company could deliver.

Good enough is never good enough

Which leads me to John Siracusa, perhaps the most thoughtful advocate of humane technology we have today. In his seminal piece Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, Siracusa argues that technological progress can only be achieved through relentless improvement and that, yes, this forward progress can be disruptive and confusing in the moment. But if progress is our goal, proclaiming “good enough” is not an option. Amazon Dash isn’t the alpha and omega of smart home technology, but you don’t get from the Brady Bunch to the Jetsons without a thousand steps in between.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron