In his thought-provoking book, WORLD WITHOUT MIND: THE EXISTENTIAL THREAT OF BIG TECH (2017), Franklin Foer raises some interesting and sometimes frightening questions about our surrender of privacy for the convenience of instant information and delivery. In his conclusion, Foer reminds us of just how revolutionary Gutenberg’s printing press was. With the eventual and often contentious rise of widespread literacy made possible by the simple presence of a private book, human beings no longer had to take someone else’s opinion as truth. Even though very few people benefitted from the initial introduction of the printing press, the groundwork was erected upon which our notions of individual freedom were built. Foer focuses on three powerful and pervasive inheritors of Gutenberg’s legacy–Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple. In his thought-provoking meditation on that legacy, Foer raises some valuable questions about how these companies are altering our conceptions of freedom and privacy. This is not a doomsday book, but a modern “folktale” about monsters in our midst that tempt us to trade privacy for convenience.
This week I have been following one of these modern folktales–namely, Amazon’s test of a new program designed to deliver packages to our cars. Based on Amazon Key, this new service requires us to give access to our cars to Amazon delivery personnel who will conveniently and hopefully discretely place packages inside our trunks. As you know, Amazon is already delivering packages to our homes by using the same method. While we are away, these same personnel are gaining entrance to our homes and placing our packages inside our living rooms. So, let’s welcome these new family members into our homes and cars.
According to a column by Valentina Palladino that appeared in ArsTechnica last week “Amazon added a new delivery location to the ever-growing number of spots it can leave your packages: inside your car. The company announced an expansion of its Amazon Key in-home delivery service that now lets Prime members get packages deposited in their cars at no extra cost.” Now here is the interesting (and scary) part. “Before couriers gain access to the customer’s car, Amazon uses an ‘encrypted authentication process’ to make sure the right courier is present in the right location with the right package. After authentication, the car is unlocked so the courier can deliver the package inside.” After delivery is make, the customer receives a message informing him or her that the package was delivered successfully and that their car is once again safe and secure. And apparently the only concern we should have is that the “right courier” was “present in the right location with the right package.” And Amazon feels good about this new development because its customers apparently feel more secure about having a courier unlock their car than their home.
Rather than focusing on the dark side of this tale, I want to take a look at its lighter side. Take, for instance, the possibilities for endless practical jokes and pleasantries that exist for this new delivery system. Various “trunk or treats,” if you will. I won’t go into any detail for fear of creating unnecessary mayhem, but I will let your imaginations run wild. On a more practical side, I can foresee a whole new market for a series of “delivery modules,” for want of a better term, that can be easily attached to the roofs of our vehicles, like the little luggage compartments that already exist. These modules will allow for the delivery of packages without having to give couriers direct access to the interiors of our vehicles. And, for those who prefer home delivery but are more than a little antsy about giving home access to strangers, we could purchase storage sheds or wall attachments that can safely and securely store our packages. Of course, someone other than me will take these ideas and make millions of dollars. Sounds like a golden opportunity to me. You might want to start drawing up some prototypes right away. Let’s just hope there’s a market for these new products.
Before we go, let’s imagine the next frontier for Amazon–personal delivery. With all the GPS sophistication and precision that already exists, why not envision the ultimate convenience of a courier being able to personally deliver our packages to us wherever we happen to be? Imagine walking down the street or dining out and enjoying the thrill of having our packages taking us by surprise. After all, we are very easy to locate on a 24/7 basis, so why not make life more interesting and adventurous. We could call this new service “Encounters,” “Rendezvous,” or something more exotic. Just think of all the adventures that await. And opportunities for chance romances and friendships.
I will bring this week’s column to a close as I peruse the news for more fascinating news about the wonderful world of intrusive delivery.