The Strawberry That Broke the Camels Back

Here’s a story that might not have made it across the oceans and interrupted your usual feed of anti-Trump, pro-globalism propaganda. In September of 2018 tiny needles were discovered in strawberries around Australia and a massive recall was instigated. Now a suspect has been arrested and it looks to be the doing of one 50-year-old Viet woman.

Before we discovered the culprit this was all us Australians could talk about. It was the word on everyone’s lips in every office in Australia. Why would someone do this? Who would do this? As the contamination spread we asked if it was a conspiracy, an army of agile-handed needle implanters working diligently to give Australians appendicitis. Thankfully only one man went to hospital, but the fear that our beloved fruit, our staple pavlova topping, could contain sharp objects put the fear in us all. Like with all conspiracies the truth is more mundane than we could imagine.

Take stock of this. One old woman with a little bit of spite managed to throw a big old spanner into the works and caused a national news cycle that lasted longer than your typical terrorist attack. The escapade prompted our Prime Minister to announce that, ‘If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you,’ and come after them we did, with a very large police operation set-up to sniff out the criminal. What can we learn from this?

That it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart. Accelerationists, anarchists and other protestors talk about disruption, but how often do they upend an entire industry? As ISIL and the Strawberry Needler have proven the future of terrorism is isolated lone wolf attacks. Like blockchain attacks could be carried out on lines of trust, each cell separated from the larger body but able to put fuel on the fire wherever needed. This example was a haphazard revenge attack by a disgruntled worker; imagine a coordinated effort with the sole purpose of hijacking the news cycle. It is completely surprising that groups haven’t made an effort to impact the system in any meaningful way. Instead we get Occupy Wall Street.

Is it because the average protestor doesn’t want to risk hurting their fellow citizen? Surely our Strawberry Needler only went ahead with the plan because she reasoned the chances of actually hurting someone were slim. It now seems so easy that with such a complex system such as the one we have courtesy of global neoliberalism an individual effort can have much larger consequences. Ted K might have thought he was doing something by targeting and killing certain people, but it appears to me that he would have been better off actually disrupting the faceless, inhumane system (the fact that he didn’t perhaps points to his egoism). What other ways can the pine trees break down technological society? It must be non-harmful methods. Perhaps people could burn down post boxes. Breed cats and just let them go wild until there is an utter infestation of ferals in your neighbourhood. Or as I saw on Twitter, plant bamboo shoots in random places. And never forget Sky King who proved just how much one man can do. Things that are achievable alone but will definitely but stressors on various systems.

This is all purely hypothetical and theoretical, an interesting study of the ‘lone wolf’. I would be very interested in the psychology behind such cases. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks and needless in berries: what is the connection? Resentment? Is it that simple? That must be the only common thread between all three. You can blame Islam, and access to guns, but how do you blame an old woman? It’s almost as if you have to sympathize with her, just a little. We all know how much work sucks.

The future seems to belong to the lone wolf, the individual who has just had enough.

Fear of an Amazonian Future

For a good number of years now pundits have discussed the ominous rise of tech companies. Google, Facebook, Apple: all of them groping for control in different ways. But personally, particularly because of the industry I work in, I have always been most fearful – and most in awe of – Amazon.

Amazon grew off the back of selling books. At the time during the 1990s this would have seemed ludicrous. How could this internet upstart challenge Barnes & Noble or Borders? But challenge them – and win – it did. If you can systemise and sell a product as varied as books, you can sell anything. Books come in all shapes, sizes, and page lengths. The added bonus is that nothing is as intimate as a book, and as the old adage goes, you can tell a lot about a person from their bookshelf. 

So while Google, Facebook and Apple were all gathering data on you via your direct interaction with platforms, Amazon was analysing your buying habits – a far scarier prospect. For years they went hard on scale, with massive investments in warehouses, and monetarily never made much profit, with hard discounts and reinvestment of revenue back into R&D. This strategy  paid off like little else. From books they have expanded to general goods, groceries, cloud computing and more. Heck, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. They’ve got their fingers in so many content pies that they come across as anything other than humble. Sinister is the word I would use.

See, the key to Amazon is content. If they have all (relatively speaking) of the content, then it doesn’t even matter if they have the ‘best’ content. Amazon are now the biggest publisher of translated books. Did you even know they have publishing houses? Not only do they have a monopoly on ebooks, print books, and self-published books, they now have a majority share in foreign language translations. Content is king. The more you have, the more you sell. It’s simple physics. And the more you sell, the more customers you have with which to sell other products to. There is nothing scarier, in my eyes, than a Singular Retailer, one that can almost literally spoon feed you products. Science fiction writers showed us the horrors of a consumer dystopia; I’m just surprised horrorfied by how easily we took it up. Their tactics are truly forward-facing, and truly evil if you are a small business. And it’s all because of books.

The easiest and most frightening future I can imagine is one where civilians watch their Amazon TV, read on their Kindle (or maybe just listen to the books on Audible), receive their groceries via Amazon drones and then skip down the street to their local Amazon coffee house. And then, latte in hand, you go to your work – at the District Amazon Mega Warehouse. The local is dead and the globocorp is real. 

How can one combat this juggernaut? Not very easily, because convenience is key to the heart of the consumer, and Amazon thrives on making everything as not-difficult as possible. The fact is, most people in cities have grown up buying from corporations. We are indoctrinated into getting things cheaply, easily and nastily. Amazon promises to deliver that in spades, and in doing so destroy its competitors. We will barely notice the shift.