Here is part of another piece of work by the street artist Levalet - this time taking the form of an extensive installation set in the former chateau of Rouen business school. Called Libre Echange, it offers a nightmarish vision of aspects of our modern-day existence which is given over to procurement, served by globalized supply chains and fed and fuelled by 'fulfillment centres'. This might be Free Trade, but these delivery men are caught up in a cycle that is worthy of M.C Escher's staircase, and reflects the illusion of progress that has ensnared us all.
|Relativity, by M. C. Escher. Lithograph, 1953.
Gradually, the idea of something – anything – being delivered comes to have more importance than the actual contents of these cardboard boxes. The need to reach an elusive point of fulfilment forces us onto the hedonistic treadmill which speeds up and grows in size as the supply chain becomes a global loop. This in turn becomes a shackle or noose, holding us back while slowly asphyxiating us. Amazon meanwhile, looks on with that enigmatic smile - or smirk - and we should indeed die laughing from the irony, as the company laughs all the way to the bank alongside its stable mates; Google, Apple and Facebook.
Although initially set up as an online dealer of books in the mid-90s, Amazon was never destined to be a one-trick pony. More than merely spreading its wings into other areas of retail as an ‘everything’ store, Amazon has duly branched out into virtually every conceivable domain. It has long turned the page on the plodding, physical world of paper – to the point that few people even know the company was first built on books.
It has taken on the the biggest and the best in all fields, given all competitors a wild run for their money, and generally won every game, through the sheer scope and scale of its activities. Now the 21st century titan wants to go far further still. Size provides leverage, and Amazon has already demonstrated how it can wield its power and authority in order to transform live on Earth. Today, much like a latter-day Captain Kirk, Bezos wants to steer his travel company, Blue Origin, to boldly go where no man has gone before. With his sights set on the Cosmos, he is investing billions to conquer the final frontier; Space.
Back on the Blue Planet, where is this vision of a Brave New World leading the average terrestrial ? This vast multinational tech company has transformed the dynamics of the marketplace, the highstreet, our consumer expectations and more importantly our habits in the most exciting ways. But I can’t help but wonder if that smiley Amazonian arrow has not just shot us through the heart.
Between them, the giant GAFA has brought about a seachange on every possible level of human activity and behaviour. From cradle to grave, from to A to Z, our lives are being facilitated by the Triple A Triumivirate; Apple, Alphabet (Google) and Amazon. We all benefit from the supply of revolutionary goods and services that tech companies offer. Amazon has put customer satisfaction before profit, understanding that loyalty means growth, and scale yields power. Power means that you are accountable to no one. Amazon fights to charge less, ensuring that the ‘price is right’ and that the purchase conditions are hugely attractive. Nurturing our addiction to knock-down prices, speed and convenience, Amazon offers a deal that is simply too good to refuse. Yet ultimately these companies will get far more than they give - profitting hugely from our custom, now and in the long term. The game has already changed and powerful influences shape account-holders on every level in a world that is ever-more connected but increasingly disconnected from the basics. Most of us are now wholly or largely reliant on the internet and the tech companies behind it for the smooth running of daily life. Could that herald our making or our undoing ?
At a click, we have access to everything. Surely this should make us more more content than at any other moment in human history? The doors are open to a wealth of information, education and entertainment that was inconceivable in the past and yet we do not seem to consider ourselves any richer for it. We have the most perfect tools that seem to have been delivered into imperfect, untrained hands.This, in turn, is corrupting minds that are ill-prepared for such an onslaught of high tech and this is making us vulnerable, not invincible. Even children born with a smart device seem to pay a price that no amount of slick online thrills will ever compensate. While trying to perfect human experience through technology, mere humans are losing what has always separated man from beast, and man from automaton The thirst for convenient, cheap consumption is permeating everything – material and immaterial. Creativity, critical thinking, consciousness are being imperceptibly modified, so that our rough 3D vision of life and ourselves is being smoothed down to arrive at a flatter, photoshopped face-value, Facebook version.
Of course, the positives in this high-tech world are innumerable, offering magical possibilities. And yet, I do not envy anyone born ‘connected’. We have tripped ourselves up and tumbled on this new step of human evolution; momentarily at least….
I have occasionally used Amazon to buy second-hand books – to my great satisfaction - but the realisation that its business model has rung the death knell for many physical book shops has soured the experience. Worse still, the fact that reading literature – physical or electronic - has lost out all round in modern-day life is truly saddening. Ironically, it was Amazon - the trail-blazing bookseller offering their wares dirt-cheap- that set much of that process in place. Their innovative business model helped change our vision, on and off-line. Now, our all-consuming devotion to consumption and commodification in the connected universe has left us with little time for Amazon’s initial golden goose; books.
When something is sold cheap, it is ultimately perceived as worth little or nothing.
|Outside the amphitheatre at the business school