It was a Sunday night, and I was looking for something to read.

I didn’t feel like diving back into the morning’s newspapers, and I didn’t go to the bookshelf to grab an old favorite or one of those unread titles that I’d bought with the best of intentions but have never felt in the right mood to peruse.

Instead, I grabbed my Kindle and typed in the title of a new book I’d been hearing about and clicked.

Within seconds, I had an electronic copy of “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America” by Alec MacGillis.

It didn’t take long for the irony to sink in.

The book is about America in the last two decades. It’s about how advances in technology have created incredible opportunities for people like me to consume information, while also concentrating wealth and power in ways no one could have imagined.


Instead of an economy with various levels of prosperity distributed more or less equally all over the country, MacGillis describes a nation separated into winner and loser regions, where capital and talent pile up in just a few big cities on the East and West coasts.

Within the regions, the tech economy creates winner and loser states, winner and loser cities and winners and losers inside the same city.

It’s why homeless people are living on the street in San Francisco and abandoned housing is being bulldozed in Baltimore. It’s also a reason why our politics have become so polarized. “Regional inequality was making parts of the country incomprehensible to one another,” he observes. “One world wracked with painkillers, the other tainted by elite college admission schemes.”

So, it ends up being a book about, which is not the only company that brought us to this place, but it is the one with a near-monopoly on e-commerce and cloud computing that makes it the most intertwined in our lives. In part, it’s a book about Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and a book about the guy who made it all possible: me.

Not just me, but millions of people exactly like me, those of us who are seduced by the notion that we can summon whatever we want to appear with a flick of a finger, like a king.

Amazon is focused on making that transaction as easy as possible – “frictionless” – for the customer, and hides the costs. We see the package arriving at our doorstep, but not the warehouse workers, run ragged packing boxes of imported products on sites that used to house steel mills and factories. We don’t see the local retailers laying off employees or shutting their doors.


I like Print, my local bookstore, a lot. I went in there once and told Josh at the counter, “A friend recommended a book, but I can’t remember the title or the name of the author,” and he found it for me. I would be very sad if it went out of business, like the record store I used to haunt before I discovered online streaming.

It’s not just sentiment. Money spent in local businesses stays here. I don’t have such warm feelings about the chain stores at the Maine Mall, but I know they provide hundreds of jobs for my neighbors whose paychecks are spent on rent, groceries, clothes and entertainment as well as taxes that support local services. The money I sent to Amazon for an e-book disappeared into the ether.

I could throw away my Kindle and cancel my Amazon Prime membership, but I could not escape doing business with the company.

This newspaper is produced using computer programs stored in the cloud by Amazon Web Services, or AWS. Even if you are reading this in print, it could not have come into your hands without this technology.

If you look, you can find the AWS designation all over the web. It’s not just behind Amazon’s own online marketplace, but also supports competitor sites like Netflix and all levels of government. Cloud computing is the most profitable sector of Amazon. Those profits allow it to lose money on retail sales so they can crush the competition, including companies that have been selling on, kicking up 15 percent of every sale, because it’s the only way to reach customers who have been accustomed to the one-click lifestyle.

Before I finished reading “Fulfillment,” I ordered a hardcover copy from Print. I don’t need to read it again, but just having it around should remind me how much hardship there is behind an easy, one-click purchase.

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