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Columns

Love, Amazon, and Bob Dylan

Wednesday 7 October 2015

We are living in strange times. The “Tinder” lifestyle, and “boundary”, “clingy/needy” and “suitable spouse” spiel dissuade us from forming strong emotional attachments to each other. Instead, we are subtly encouraged to connect emotionally to companies providing content, services and consumer goods (Verizon/AOL, Amazon, TWC). The belief is that this will profit us overall, people and companies alike.
Ish. The only certainty is that companies are now behaving more like individuals, and highly-strung ones at that (take the anguished response of the Twitter avatar for Tinder, after the scathing Vanity Fair expose on it), and people find themselves in situations and jobs where they are often are required to act like automatons: emotionlessly. This is supposed to allow for mindfulness to take over. Usually, this fails. Devoid of emotion, life becomes purely transanctional, and even Donald Trump wouldn’t want such a life.

A few days ago, I realized my Amazon Prime membership was redundant: I no longer buy anything, material or virtual; and as for the Amazon Prime content (streaming specific tv shows and movies for free, as well as full free access Amazon original series; and a few other perks involving music, books) it no longer fits my tastes. Everything I might be interested in, I can purchase anywhere else—GooglePlay, iTunes, or even the network or original seller—for the same price.
My new zen-like transformation aside, I think that quite a few of my millenial generation, especially the older ones, are reaching this conclusion.
The cost of life is one culprit. Rents are skyrocketing all over the US, and especially in the cities we love to live in—New York, San Francisco, L.A, Seattle too. Competition is increasingly intense, and life increasingly uncertain. As a direct outcome we have tighter spending budgets, and far less time, space and confidence to fill with all money can buy.
The over-abundance of good content offered by similar subscription models—and at prices cheaper than Amazon’s—is another factor.
On cable, networks such as ABC (thanks to addictively watcheable series, like Shonda Rhime’s “Scandal”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “How to get away with murder”), FOX (“Empire”), CBS (with its old bestie “The Big Bang Theory”) and NBC (with its “Law&Order” and newbie “Quantico”) are jousting with HBO, ABC, Showtime, PBS Masterpiece for new, invested viewers. “The Affair”, “Downton Abbey”, “Girls” are prime examples.
Then there’s the meteoric rise of Netflix, and now Hulu, as a producer of series beloved to the public (The Mindy Project is currently a Hulu-original series.)
Still, I was reluctant to cancel my Amazon Prime membership. We had been together for years; I was cited as a “loyal” customer. It felt like betraying your old love for a new one. Did I want to be that kind of a person? Was my personal philosophy akin to that of money-makers? (If so, why am I broke?!)
I decided to follow the middle road: keep the membership till it expires (in the next few months), but turn off the auto-renewal settings.
Wrong decision.
Since then, every time I stream anything on my laptop (from a free network series to an episode I have purchased, or even a YouTube video) I am subjected to watching a certain Amazon Prime ad. Experiencing this ad splices time into two increments: before you watch it, when still considering cancelling your Amazon subscription; after you watch it, when even the idea of cancelling fills you with dread, remorse, grief.
I am fairly sure most people who have seen it, know which Amazon Prime ad I’m referring to. It’s not the silly, building-blocks one; it’s the handicapped dog one.
For those of you who have not seen it… don’t, unless you want to be transformed into an unintentional devotee of Amazon Prime.
“Narrated” only through image and sound, and relayed to us through the eyes of a dog and then through the eyes of a person, the ad’s premise is deceptively simple: a dog with impaired mobility (his leg is broken or more permanently handicapped; we never learn) looks on sadly at other dogs leaping and running. His owner/human companion, a sweet, rather scruffy-looking young man who looks like a British, geeky version of a very young Bob Dylan, looks on sadly at his dog looking on sadly at the other dogs. After brief contemplation, he clicks on his phone and orders something from Amazon Prime. “Two -day free shipping” flashes on our screen.
Cut to the next moment. It’s obviously two days later, and boy is carrying dog in pouch around his chest. They walk high above the fray (leaping dogs) into a rosy horizon. Dog and boy wear same expressions of triumph, joy, and connection to each other.
Suffice to say this ad works wonders with anyone who has ever been close to any animal; who has experienced being handicapped; who has felt like an outsider.
With knowledge garnered from sophisticated artificial intelligence data, as well as scientific reviews (such as one recently relaying the information that dogs—and wolves—intentionally make eye contact with us when they want to affect us; it triggers an emotional response that induces the brain to release the same kind of “love-bonding” hormone that allows parents to bond with their newborn) the ad makes short shrift of the now obsolete trope that the heart can be in conflict with the mind. You know you don’t need Amazon Prime any longer; but you also do not want to sever your ties with a company who bluntly, blatantly goes out there to say what everyone who has ever been vulnerable knows: the metrics of power, success, money are limited; beyond or regardless of them, only one thing exists. Love. And it lasts, at best, only as long as time will allow it. It is our one act of defiance to our mortal state.
The same principle and pronouncement is generated by the new ad for IBM’s Out Think cognitive business, figuring the supercomputer Watson, and Bob Dylan (yes, that Bob Dylan!) 
“Time passes and love fades are your main themes” Watson tells Bob Dylan. “That’s about right” Bob responds. The two decide to create a song together, but Bob exits when Watson starts to sing. “Create” flashes across the screen. The ad experience is complemented by story-lines, including: “Everything that is digital has the potential to become cognitive, and, in a sense, be able to “think. Now business can out-think.”
In ways that evidently make humans out-feel, then out-pay.
It makes sense in a way: emotions always come at a cost. The more we feel, the deeper we think, the closer we connect to life—its joy, vagaries, impermanence.
 

 

 

 


 
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