Very soon it may be true that in some parts of the world drones are what shadow, spy, and kill, while elsewhere drones are just what deliver the junk you bought online that afternoon. Someone attempting to put finger to this modern world’s fundamental dichotomy could do a lot worse than that.
This absurd little global delineation would come courtesy of Amazon.com, whose founder Jeff Bezos unveiled the plan on 60 Minutes this past weekend. Amazon “Octocopters”—so named for their eight individually powered blades—would deliver packages of up to five pounds to areas within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon distribution center. Given the speed with which the company is erecting such centers, the fact that 85% of the products it ships are under five pounds in weight, and the ever-increasing proportion of the world’s population that clusters together in densely populated areas, we’re looking at an awful lot of drones delivering an awful lot of packages to an awful lot of people. Bezos himself is optimistic that this will be a reality within four or five years.
It’s a big, bold initiative that’s getting quite a bit of attention—so much, in fact, that a cynic could wonder whether the notoriously secretive company perhaps opted to unveil it now as a means of distracting attention from a rash of reports of poor working conditions and striking employees.
But hey, business is business, right? And so while Amazon continues their remarkably successful quest to automate our days (those drones are self-piloted, by the way), small businesses stubbornly persist in their embrace of a more human touch. Independent booksellers have long been pioneers on that front, and their latest innovation deserves notice.
The challenge issued to authors by the great Sherman Alexie was simple enough: on “Small Business Saturday” (the indies’ answer to “Black Friday”)—writers ought to descend on their favorite bookstores and try to repay some of the invaluable support that booksellers have given to authors for decades. And descend they did. Shelf Awareness reports that more than 1,000 authors helped out at more than 400 indie bookstores, marking a fantastic debut for the “Indies First” program. Some authors spent the day handselling (industry-speak for connecting readers with books they wouldn’t otherwise find), others wrapped gifts, others directed traffic.
Indies First on Small Business Saturday was followed by the eschewal of “Cyber Monday” in favor of the positively charming “Cider Monday,” when indies in the northeast offered hot apple cider to customers craving a more comforting spot of shopping. Next up is this Saturday’s “Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day,” a program intended to show the digital natives of the world that there are still things in life more fulfilling than algorithms.
The experience offered at independent small businesses and that of one-click drone-delivered purchasing will continue to diverge, leaving shoppers with a clear choice: Do you prefer your commerce humanized or weaponized?