We live in an age of incredible convenience, all thanks to innovation and technology. There are few things you can't instantly order with the simple press of a button - food, taxis, movies...a Nicolas Cage pillowcase. Basically, anything we want is constantly at our fingertips. It's pretty great...but it also has a cost.
And I'm talking about more than the cost of that Nicolas Cage pillowcase - all of this convenience and technology has a larger, more insidious price that is rarely considered, since it takes a lot of the fun out of these seemingly harmless technologies. The reality is that every mild convenience we enjoy nowadays is rotting away our workforce, our society, and...pretty much our entire way of life. Here are just a few of the amazing services that are costing us more than we know.
You can go on Amazon right now and pre-order a movie that just came out, buy a case of pop, plus some erotica about a random historical figure - and have it delivered pretty much anywhere in the world in a few days (or less). That's an amazing shopping experience that you will not find anywhere else in the universe, even the mall. Amazon truly is an awesome company, if you never, ever read anything about it. Ever.
If you Google "Amazon workplace" right now, you'll notice right away how often the word "brutal" or some derivation thereof appears on you screen. The workplace environment at Amazon has been compared to Wal Mart, but in a way that makes Wal Mart look like summer camp an Amazon look like being cooked in the actual campfire at summer camp.
The working conditions at an Amazon warehouse have been likened to pre-Industrial sweatshop madhouses, only more techno savvy and less compassionate. Employees were literally tagged with navigation systems so that they could be told the most efficient way to walk the average of 10 miles per day through the warehouse to get where they needed to go and monitored to ensure they did it in the time allotted, which is apparently just 9 seconds per order. The moment an employer starts telling you how to walk across the building you work in and how long you can poop while you're there, you know everything else is going to be some serious bullshit.
Not to mention that, for all the work employees do at Amazon - 10 hour days that see people sleeping on their feet in the aisles, hundreds of them are on food stamps just to make ends meet while Amazon's owner, Jeff Bezos, is now the richest man in the universe.
Outside the warehouse, Amazon likes to stick it to anyone who dares tread on the same grounds as them. They've been accused of monitoring how vendors use Amazon to sell their own products, then simply sourcing the same product and undercutting the vendor to sell it cheaper, because their resources are vast and terrifying like that. Even giants like Wal Mart aren't safe from Amazon which undercuts them on shipping. In the future, if any store isn't Amazon, it's probably because it's a store that sells porn and meth.
Consider also the vulgar Bachelor-like display of pandering that went into trying to entice Amazon to build their secondary headquarters in various cities. Everywhere from LA to Chicago to Austin to Toronto was on their knees for Amazon offering tax incentives and whatever other frills and gimmicks like giant cacti and weird dioramas as though this was being staged in 6th grade. All to a convince Amazon to build there because that's what a multi-billion dollar corporation needs? Breaks from people? Sure, Amazon brings jobs and money to the local economy, but how about doing that in a place like Detroit which needs it, not like a place like Tucson which can ship you a giant fake cactus as a cute gift?
Uber may be the Thanos of the gig economy, the biggest, baddest example of how it can succeed. The company blazed onto the scene and drove people to the airport all across the world like nobody's business with an idea so stupidly brilliant you kick yourself for not thinking of it first - what if I just give people rides places and charge them money?
Cabbies naturally hate the idea of Uber, because they want to be cabbies and have to pay fees and have ugly cars that let you know they're cabbies. Then you come along in your Prius with free licorice in the backseat and no one's urine on the upholstery and steal all that sweet cab money. Good for you, bad for them. But mostly good for you! Plus, if you're looking for a ride, Uber tends to just be superior to a cab in many ways - more comfortable, better service and often faster and potentially cheaper.
The flipside of this is that driving for a living is not a gig. Uber is, but being a cabbie isn't. Imagine you make about $88,000 a year in your job, which places numerous fees and restrictions on how you work, which requires costly licences and, if we're being honest, can be a real hassle sometimes. Suddenly a company starts up that lets literally anyone do your job when they have the time. So your living is now farmed out to someone who just needs a few bucks for pot and cookies and may only do it for 5 hours a week. But there are 100 of those people doing it 5 hours a week. 1000 of those guys. In New York City, there are now over 100,000 of those guys.
Worldwide, it's estimated Uber has nearly 3 million drivers - with 600,000 in the US - and while some of them are just those random gig employees, many just do it for a living now so that's a lot of people relying on what Uber provides. But Uber is absolutely up to its nuts in its own internal problems. If their plans keep moving forward towards self-driving cars, nevermind their recent court loss over Waymo, what happens to the current and future crop of drivers? The company is actively seeking to replace all of those people. Worse, data suggest that the fares Uber charges right now only cover 40% of expenses. Venture capitalists have made up the difference, but that sort of financial tomfoolery has a limited lifespan, and there's no way they can continue without raising fares two or three times.
Uber's only other option for survival is to kill the cab industry, putting that first group of people out of business and then freeing them up to charge whatever they like because there is no competition, which screws both professional drivers and riders who have no alternative. How is either of these a viable option?
To condense all the problems with Facebook into one place at one time is a monumental task. When it first appeared on the scene in the mid 2000s people were mostly concerned with being creeped by people from highschool they didn't want to talk to again. Now we're worried that foreign governments are using it to influence our democracy. What a long, strange road it's been.
To start from the top, why not address the looming political nightmare that is Facebook. 45% of Americans say they get their news from Facebook but Facebook isn't a media outlet. It's not vetted, it's not run by journalists, it's just a platform. So 45% of Americans are reading whatever the hell someone posted on Facebook, whether it's honest, reliable, or Russian. Analysis of what went on during the 2016 election shows that Facebook was heavily manipulated and the things you likely read during that time were meant to manipulate you one way or another, something Facebook execs dismissed out of hand. And that's another big issue with the company.
Facebook doesn't like to admit to its own power, it seems, and is pretty adamant in its desire to downplay anything negative. Like privacy concerns, for instance. Facebook, after all, is just a business. Your Facebook isn't "your" Facebook, it's Mark Zuckerberg's and he wants to make money off of you like you're a precious little goose pooping golden eggs, so yeah, he's going to sell your info to people. 24% of websites you visit have hidden Facebook trackers, which is of course in addition to all the sites that are openly tracking you for Facebook because you literally log in with your Facebook ID. Facebook knows what you read, what you buy, what you play and listen to. It knows what you like and who you talk to. It knows how long you do these things, and when. It very likely has such a detailed profile it can probably target you with specific ads tailored to the time of day they're likely to be most effective. And this same info not only shows you things, it doesn't show you things. Facebook decides what you will see and what you won't, based on what Facebook wants from you.
Speaking of what you see, Facebook has a stranglehold on online publishers who, if they want a piece of the billions-strong Facebook audience, need to dance to Facebook's shitty tune, which is probably a weird mix of dubstep and polka. If you want Facebook to host your content, it has to meet their rules. The referral traffic is abysmally low, because Facebook doesn't want to send traffic away, and the revenue generated from being on Facebook is laughable. If you make a video that gets one million views for Facebook, only 3% of the revenue comes back to you on average. The result of this is that Facebook has essentially killed off creating new content online.
You have to make content for Facebook that it is going to make money off of, with little guarantee of any money for you, in order to make Facebook's approach to working with publishers work. Facebook is the Mr. Burns of the internet, laughing from atop a money pile while deciding when and where to release the hounds.
4. Streaming Music
Arguably, streaming is one of the greatest things to happen to music since the invention of the kazoo. Before streaming became a viable option, back when our ancestors used something called "physical media," if you wanted to get exposed to some new music, you hoped for something awesome to pop up on MTV or the radio, or you hit up a lot of clubs and music festivals in a crapshoot approach to finding new stuff. It was utterly exhausting.
Streaming means you can find literally hundreds of new bands in mere moments. You can listen to an unsigned garage band from the other side of the world. If you are that garage band, you can be stoked to know someone is listening to you on the other side of the world. It's pretty awesome. But it also kind of killed the industry part of the music industry, decimating sales en masse and only now, in 2018, is the industry really starting to stabilize and make decent money again, adopting streaming as a viable way to sell music. Keep in mind, streaming has been around for years now - lastfm started up in 2002, Pandora in 2005, soundcloud in 2007, spotify in 2008.
As Taylor Swift pointed out in 2014, streaming is a kick in the knackers to artists. Ninety-nine percent of all music streams are the top 10% of all streamed tracks. So 1% of all streamed music is literally every other song ever. So the artists in that top 10% are making money now, but the rest? Not so much. The highest paying streaming service is Napster, which surprisingly still exists, and in 2017 was paying $0.0167 per stream, Spotify pays $0.0038 and Youtube is in the basement with $0.0006. One million streams on Spotify is worth $3,800. And aside from the biggest acts out there, how many musicians are being streamed that much anyway? How are Limp Bizkit paying their mortgages?
Internet users have a tendency to believe if they can get a thing without paying, then they have a right to that thing. This has been the issue with music piracy since the days of Napster. I can listen to the radio for free and all I need to put up with is asinine DJs, how is it any different if I download this song without paying? Obviously a lot of progress has been made towards the end of ending piracy, and most streaming services have you pay for premium services, and there are ads that generate revenue which is how the artists get their money, but it's not the million dollar contract you'd get for cutting an album back in the day by any means.
2017 was the music industry's second year of growth since 1999. So streaming is having a turn around effect now, after many years and many adjustments, but things will never be the way they were, for better or for worse. The industry of the past - the release of a single that can top the charts and be "that song" for a summer has been kneecapped. Now you can be the song of the week, and maybe people will binge your whole album if it's good enough, but the idea of building a Rockstar is vastly different than it ever was and ever will be again.
Don't you just hate ads? Of course you do, they're the worst, always trying to sell you stuff and existing where you can see them and what the hell is the deal with that guy who keeps telling you about his car before your Youtube video plays? Thank God for adblocking software, putting a stop to all of that nonsense before you even realize you want to join the coolest new dating site for singles in your area.
Over 600 million devices use adblocking software and over 70% of users will leave a site that has an adblock wall up, meaning they want you to turn off your adblocker to view content. People just hate ads. Problem is, the site you're going to uses those ads to stay in business. And while maybe it's no big deal if YOU block ads, when 600 million people do it, the sites they go to start dying like that houseplant you haven't watered in 2018 yet. And it's not a theory or a fear or anything, it's what's happening. Numerous online publications have been slowly feeling the crunch for years now and it's getting worse and worse - there have been staff layoffs and firings, massive cutbacks to the amount of content being produced, and a lot of pleas for alternate sources of funding like subscription based premium services and donations. Publishers reported a massive $24 billion loss in 2015 thanks to ad blocking software.
If you've been to just about any newspaper or magazine website in the last five years, you've likely seen that they have a subscription option, or they ask for donations, maybe they have a Patreon or a guy who dances for nickels by the overpass. That's not just because things are tough "in this economy" as people say. Things are tough because users have decimated the revenue stream of traditional advertising online by blocking them outright. And unfortunately, many users see this from an individual standpoint - why should I start paying for content I used to get for free? Well, for one, it never was free, but you killed the revenue and two, if someone does pay then no one gets the content and the face of the internet will be vastly different and, probably, much more asstacular.
On the other side of the fence here is the sucktastical suckiness of ads that lead us to this state in the first place. If you go to a website and can't even see the content because a massive, half-page flash video swallows your resources like some kind of memory Sarlacc and forces you to watch a car commercial, you're going to tell that website to suck it, and rightly so. Consumers want product but not the crappy ads getting in the way. Content producers are therefore going to have to find a new way of producing content while still making revenue because appealing to the good nature of the people out there to simply put up with ads doesn't work.
The future may be browsers like Brave that promise to protect the user experience by keeping you anonymous, letting you view things quickly and blocking crappy ads while at the same time compiling relevant info for advertisers, minus too much personal info, to target appropriate, non-intrusive ads and maintain that revenue streams. But until that becomes a widespread, real option, which will only happen once the current system fails utterly, we have adblock software to thank for what is sure to be a massive, slow death of a lot of good content and the loss of a lot of talented content creators who never had a hand in the technical side of any of this.