This is the kind of investigative journalism that I find extremely relevant. Have you ever bought books or anything else from online distributors? Ever stopped to really think about how that product you ordered actually makes it to your doorstep so rapidly, and at such a low price? Journalist Mac McClelland has a new article over at Mother Jones where she does a little digging into the inner-workings and conditions of “Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.” (not the real name of the company), which is a large-scale online distributor. Her first hand descriptions and experiences remind me of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle–although the jungle she explores isn’t filled with the horrors of meatpacking, it’s congested with long hours, brutal time constraints, low wages, and, well, other strange things that people buy online and want shipped to them as soon as possible (read it to find out). Here’s a poignant selection where McClelland critically questions the reasons behind these conditions:
As if Amalgamated couldn’t bear to lose a fraction of a percent of profits by employing a few more than the absolute minimum of bodies they have to, or by storing the merchandise at halfway ergonomic heights and angles. But that would cost space, and space costs money, and money is not a thing customers could possibly be expected to hand over for this service without huffily taking their business elsewhere. Charging for shipping does cause high abandonment rates of online orders, though it’s not clear whether people wouldn’t pay a few bucks for shipping, or a bit more for the products, if they were guaranteed that no low-income workers would be tortured or exploited in the handling of their purchases.
Is it anthropology? Does that question even matter? I think there is plenty of relevance here. The article is worth a read. But, in regards to anthropology, this article has me wondering whether or not there are anthropologists out there exploring similar issues. If so, who? If not, why not? Another example of a pervasive, everyday issue that anthropologists are in a good position to thoroughly explore. McClelland’s narrative and discussion is based upon a relatively short stint with the company, and I’d be interested to hear about similar projects, as well as others that are based upon longer-term experience. Anyway, if any of you Savage Minds out there know of related work, let me know about it in the comments section. Or, let me know what you think about McClelland’s investigation and article.