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OPINION

A once-devoted customer rockets away from Amazon

After 20 years, I’m leaving one of the most toxic relationships of my life. But it won’t be easy.

Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard during a press conference in Van Horn, Texas.
Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard during a press conference in Van Horn, Texas.Joe Raedle/Getty

When Jeff Bezos spoke to the media after his very short, very expensive space-adjacent joyride Tuesday, I suddenly realized that Amazon’s curved-arrow logo isn’t a smile. It’s a smirk.

“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this,” said the company’s founder, also known as the world’s richest person and a prolific tax evader. That’s when I knew it was finally time to leave one of the most toxic relationships of my life.

So long, Amazon.

I’ve been embedded in the Amazon ecosystem since the company dubbed itself “Earth’s biggest bookstore.” My first purchase was “The Films of Akira Kurosawa,” by Donald Richie. I only know this because Amazon keeps track of such things, the better to curate my tastes and convince me to buy more stuff I don’t need.

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Once Amazon expanded into selling everything (as we should have known it would), the next 20 years became a blur of camera accessories, pens, notebooks, printer cartridges, picture frames, baseball display cases, computer keyboards, toys, small appliances, Kindles, cables, hard drives, and more DVDs, CDs, and books than I can possibly count. I could have purchased any of those items locally, yet with a few keystrokes or an app, all were dropped right on my doorstep. Laziness and overconsumption in one neat package.

Meanwhile, beloved independent bookstores and record shops closed. Streets became clogged with Amazon delivery vans. The company’s massive carbon footprint metastasized. In 2018, Amazon emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, almost as much as Switzerland did. With such a ruinous impact on this planet, no wonder Bezos is so eager to leave it.

Every alarming headline brought new concerns. In 2009, Amazon deleted from customers’ Kindles some editions of George Orwell’s “1984,” underscoring the sketchy nature of ownership in the digital age. When Amazon started same-day deliveries in 2016, the company was accused of limiting service in predominantly Black neighborhoods, including Roxbury.

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Worst of all is the company’s shabby treatment of many of its nearly 1.3 million employees. Amazon first denied, then admitted, that some of its drivers urinate in bottles in their vans because strict delivery schedules give them no time to use restrooms. According to various reports, turnover is high, working conditions are dangerous, hours are long, and Amazon officials target employees who get vocal about unionizing.

With Bezos’s smirking “thank you,” I’ve had enough. His comment not only lacked self-awareness but landed with a piercing cruelty that said all one needs to know about the man and how he runs his business. Predictably, he received a much-deserved dragging on social media.

“Amazon workers don’t need Bezos to thank them,” tweeted Robert Reich, former Clinton administration labor secretary and now a University of California, Berkeley, public policy professor. “They need him to stop union busting — and pay them what they deserve.”

Perhaps Bezos should have thanked the IRS and those byzantine tax laws favorable to the wealthy that allow him and Amazon, now worth $1.7 trillion, to get away with paying little or nothing in taxes.

“It’s time for Jeff Bezos to take care of business right here on Earth and pay his fair share in taxes,” tweeted Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. As many businesses shut down for months last year, more customers turned to Amazon, guaranteeing billions for the company during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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I know that this overdue breakup won’t be easy. Disconnecting from Amazon isn’t like staying away from a particular store because of a bad experience. I’m an avid reader with a greater love of books than I have space in which to keep them, and my Kindle is rarely far from reach. Does leaving Amazon also mean canceling my Washington Post subscription and imploring my partner to stop shopping at Whole Foods? And what else in my life does Bezos control that I’m not even aware of?

Still, this much I do know: Shopping on Amazon has always been too easy and cheap. Yet I can no longer morally afford the impossibly high price paid by its employees, small businesses, communities, and our ever-fragile environment. No amount of same-day deliveries can justify aiding and abetting a smirking robber baron and aspiring colonizer who has set his rapacious sights — and our money — on his empty mega-billionaire hobbies.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.