If Ama­zon fixed pot­holes

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

“Congress shall make no law ... abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press ... . ”

— From the First Amend­ment to Con­sti­tu­tion

Ijust bought a new printer for $29 on Ama­zon. I or­dered it yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, and it ar­rived be­fore noon to­day. First, how can they sell a wire­less printer and copier for only $29? And sec­ond, how can they get it to my home in less than 24 hours?

In the 1970s, the com­pany I worked for bought its first dot-matrix printer. It cost well over $5,000 and took up the bet­ter part of a room. It was so noisy they had to spend an­other chunk of change building a con­tainer around it to sound­proof it so people could ac­tu­ally do some work.

It used up en­tire forests’ worth of scrolling pa­per with lit­tle sprocket holes on the side. It broke down con­stantly. The pa­per would jam, the ink noz­zles would clog, the printer wouldn’t talk to the com­puter, it was Tues­day, some­one sneezed. Fi­nally, they hired a guy full-time just to keep it run­ning.

I never did fig­ure out what they were print­ing.

My lit­tle $29 printer can’t print thou­sands of pages, but for the 10 times a year I do need a hard copy, it’s fine. Most forms you can fill out on­line now. Ev­ery time I re­ceive a bill that asks if I want to “go pa­per­less,” I say yes. Even at the low, low price of $29, it won’t be long be­fore home print­ers go the way of buck­led shoes and cam­era film that you have to drop off to be de­vel­oped.

The only snail mail I get now is spam. Thank goodness the post of­fice gives spam mail­ers a price break on postage, or I’d never know I could get lower rates on my mort­gage, my credit card, my elec­tric­ity, my life in­sur­ance, my health in­sur­ance and my medicine. All I have to do is jump through a few of their hoops and some­how I’ll end up pay­ing ex­actly the same. Or more.

But re­ally: How did Ama­zon get a printer to me in less than 24 hours? Even a drone can’t do that. Yet. I didn’t see who de­liv­ered my pack­age, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a ro­bot. Yet. How is it that when I send some­one a post­card, they’ll get it in a few weeks, but Ama­zon and a few other com­pa­nies can get me a big pack­age in 18 hours? And I live far out of town: It’s a 35-minute drive to the near­est gro­cery store. It’s an hour and a half to the near­est big box store -- round-trip, that would be three hours. And I’ve never seen a printer there for less than a hun­dred bucks. There is some magic go­ing on here that I can’t suss out.

Here’s the thing: If you bake cook­ies this Christ­mas and want to send some to a friend, you’ll have to put them in a box, go to the post of­fice, wait in line for half an hour and then lis­ten to them ask you if you’re send­ing any­thing flammable, break­able, plaid, or a thou­sand other things. Then they’ll tell you it’s $9 to send it to the other side of town, and that the sendee should re­cieve it in a few weeks. By the way, do you want in­sur­ance on that?

Or, you could or­der cook­ies from Ama­zon, tell them it’s a gift and they’ll get it to your friends 49 states away. To­mor­row. For free.

“Well,” people will say, “Ama­zon can do it be­cause it’s a loss leader. They don’t make any money on it, it’s just to get you into the store to buy stuff they do make money on.” That would be right, ex­cept Ama­zon doesn’t have any stores to get me into (though they are ex­per­i­ment­ing with some). It sounds as if I’m shilling for Ama­zon, but they have fun­da­men­tally changed the way we shop. That doesn’t mean they are prob­lem-free, but think about it: Has your bank fun­da­men­tally changed bank­ing? Has your hos­pi­tal fun­da­men­tally changed health care? Has your lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion board made schools fun­da­men­tally bet­ter?

Are we fix­ing pot­holes faster? When people say, “We should run the gov­ern­ment like a busi­ness,” Ama­zon is the busi­ness they should be look­ing at. Not En­ron.

Contact Jim Mullen at [email protected]


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