How Amazon’s Bookstore Soothes Our Anxieties About Technology

Amazon’s new bricks-and-mortar bookstore, in Seattle’s University Village, lets customers experience the tension between front-of-house and back-of-house as a kind of pleasure.

Excerpt from this article:

The first thing Amazon did to the building that would become its first bricks-and-mortar bookstore was add bricks and mortar. The store, located in Seattle’s University Village shopping mall, opened in early November…

If Amazon’s intention had been a miniature masquerade, to pose as the kind of downtown community bookstore that it (like Barnes & Noble before it) is conventionally said to have displaced, then plenty of actual neighborhood storefronts were available in Seattle. A wave of smaller online retailers—especially clothiers and accessories-makers like Bonobos, Frank & Oak, and Warby Parker, for whom in-person trying-on is a thing—has done just that, recently opening bricks-and-mortar storefronts in urban downtowns from New York to San Francisco. Amazon’s decision to occupy a pseudo-neighborhood pseudo-storefront is, intentionally or inadvertently, more interesting.

…Suspended somewhere between a tangible (albeit exquisitely staged) reality of paper and wood, and a perceptible (albeit artfully obscured) reality of pipes and machinery, the bookstore customer is able to experience a curated version of the ethical and visceral tension between front-of-house and back-of-house—between the sleek one-click seamlessness of the screen and the unceasing labor of the fulfillment center—as a kind of pleasure. In our global moment of high-tech fabrication and doorstep delivery, we are gradually becoming more aware of distant factories and warehouses, from urban China to exurban America, and of the dispossessed lives of the faraway people who make and move our possessions. Can it be a coincidence that this awareness parallels the emergence of an aesthetic that seems, somehow, to remind us of warehouses and factories—but, with all that burnished wood and polished metal, of warehouses and factories at rest, from another time, at their most impossibly beautiful?

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