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August 15, 2015

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Paul

Long but worth your time to read and think about! 1,400+ comments - read the top ones too.

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html

Ulysses

I'll say the following with the qualifier that I don't necessarily believe it all, just "thinking aloud".

People are all sado-masochists whether they are aware of it or not, and need anxiety in order to experience pleasure. That anxiety could come from anything - a hobby, a job, running for your life from Cecil's angry relatives, etc. As you grow up, you face several anxieties; getting an education, a job, a car, bills, courting girls, getting married, and so on. The thing is, the more of these you achieve, the fewer obvious or major anxieties you face, but you still need to obsess about something. So you get a hobby like watch collecting, or trainspotting, and run with it. Take a step back from any of these and you'd see how in the big scheme of things it was unimportant next to your health, your family and your partner. However, it's human nature to get used to things and take them for granted even if we aren't aware of it, even if we are "good people". The saying "Familiarity breeds contempt" is very relevant here.

I used to be obsessed with high-end audio. I still check out new gadgets on the market (with obscene pricing and claims that are 50% bull anyway) but once I got my quality headphones and a DAC/Amp, I realised i'd achieved what I wanted and it no longer held the same importance that it once did. I guess it's why the billionaire with two yachts decides he wants a third, bigger yacht. We only see it as grotesque because we aren't used to it. The same could apply to a lot of goals we have. When John Mayer says "you're either born a watch obsessive or not", I think it is more realistic to say "you're born with a propensity to obsess" - about anything. Do we really appreciate the things we already have? The counter saying is "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." If someone were to (god forbid) steal your watch collection, would months or years without them make you appreciate what you had, while you had it? I'd wager the answer to that would be "yes". This isn't even just human nature, it's part of animal behaviour. When there's a difference of a few percent in the population between males and females, people adopt different strategies for dating. With fewer women around, men with put in a lot more effort. There's a reason why studies show that after men marry, their testosterone levels drop more rapidly than merely due to aging. The biological mission is complete and you no longer need to crush skulls and punch camels in the face to win a mate.

If there were a kill switch, would I hit it? (giggidy). I'm not sure I would. It might solve a lot of problems but it would also fundamentally change your human nature into something else, something odd. Without our flaws, there would be no victory once we mastered them. Humans need to be challenged in order to grow mentally or physically, and a glut of anything makes that less likely.

herculodge

Ulysses, fascinating to think that pulling the kill switch would make us odd, something that violates our true nature. Perhaps we'd be like the half zombies in Huxley's Brave New World as the only way to pull the switch would be to ingest some artificial wafer.

herculodge

Thanks for the link, Paul. It doesn't surprise me that any successful company creates a culture where they make it an addiction to define one's self-worth by one's contribution to the company. Amazon is a larger than life force that could be deliciously rendered in a Netflix mini series. I'd watch it.

On a different subject, Paul, are you worried about the catastrophic earthquake-tsunami that is supposed to hit the Pacific North West in the next 3 decades?

Paul

Jeff, the way I see it, there's not much I can do if the big one hits Seattle, so I just don't worry.

herculodge

I admire your approach. I read the New Yorker article about it a month ago and it brought fear through my veins.

Lee_K

Having worked in the IT industry since it practically began, the New York Times article about Amazon had me slowly shaking my head in understanding and sadness because I've lived it. Vacation? What vacation? 80 hour work weeks for months on end? Check. Taking conference calls on the weekend? Check. Woken up at 2:00am because a server went down? Check. Seen your friends and colleagues break down in tears because of the stress? Check. Seen families destroyed because the primary breadwinner is laid off due to poor ratings or worse -- because their job was out-sourced? Double check. This is a brutal business that borders on the inhumane. I don't recommend it as a career to anyone and have wondered aloud why I didn't get off the bus a long time ago. But this is a watch blog, so I won't belabor the point about the insanity of the American high tech workplace.

Jeff, the answer to your question is, "No". I wouldn't pull the Kill Switch because I know that I'll just apply the same obsessive/over-analyzing behavior on something else. Like Ulysses above, I was once heavily into high-end audio and believe me when I say that watch obsession can't touch what that line of fanaticism can lead to in terms of diminishing marginal returns and expense. I got out of the hobby with the realization that the goal of perfect sound reproduction was futile and even after spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment, one still heard tiny playback imperfections that could not be exorcised. Today I don't even own an audio system. -- it doesn't matter to me anymore.

But it's what we're wired for. If it isn't amplifiers or ETA vs Spring Drive movements discussions, this behavior will be applied to something else, be it running shoes or firearms or motorcycles. I know people who live, eat, and breath the ups and downs of their favorite sports team. They discuss the players, participate in fantasy leagues, travel to the events at staggeringly high cost, and are crushed and are truly morose when their team/player/driver didn't win. I think it's even sadder than watching someone agonize over whether to buy a plasma vs OLED vs LCD flat panel TV.

In the end, a delight in watches is a pretty innocuous thing to pursue. As long as we're paying the rent, putting food on the table, and providing for our families, what is the real harm? I don't see too many homeless people on the side of the road carrying signs that say, "Will work for a Panerai." Thinking about watches is what we do. It is a diversion from the daily grind of life, and it washes away the dust of our mundane existence. Thinking about your next acquisition, culling your collection to get to the perfect blend of divers, casuals, and formal watches takes our minds off of worrying about the endless parade of natural disasters or wars that are truly depressing to think about.

herculodge

Lee, you and Ulysses have written excellent responses, perhaps material for my next video essay. I'm thankful I never had an IT job after reading what you've gone through. Jeff

Ulysses

It's funny. When I was at school my first loves were science, but I was also keen on art. As time passed, I got more into computer science and by the time I came to choosing a degree, it seemed like the obvious choice. I did have second thoughts about a week after enrolling and tried to switch to physics which I also love and still do, but a bad score in one of my subjects at high-school meant they wouldn't take me on without extra tuition (which I could afford) so I remained a CS student. At first I enjoyed it; we learned programming and propositional logic and all the basic "computery" stuff. That gradually changed in the second and third years as it became apparent, with modules about psychology and accounting for example, that the real intention of the degree was to prime you for absorption into one of the major financial institutions at the time, some of which have since collapsed. The money was fantastic, but I was having nightmares about become a suited, booted lick-spittle sitting behind a desk for the rest of my life. Disenfranchised, I turned away from all things CS for a long time, only occasionally dipping back into it for small projects. In the last few years I have been coming to terms with my old fears and have since realised it's a lot more fun when you are coding for yourself, on your own schedule, and in my case putting it to use in creative endeavours.

Perhaps I dodged a bullet when I turned away from the corporate life all those years ago. It would've made life a lot easier financially, but living and enjoying life shouldn't be all about money.

Lee_K

"...but living and enjoying life shouldn't be all about money."

Truer words have never been spoken, Ulysses. My degrees are one in Physics and one in Computer Science. We should have a beer together sometime and talk about tube amplifiers and watches. :)

StarHalo

And speaking as your resident Amazon employee, I can confirm every word of it is true; I live and die by this job, I am the overachiever who is the perpetual disappointment to his managers, it is the dream and the nightmare. But I can tell people "I work at Amazon"..

Angelo

Ulysses: One of the bests posts ever! It gives me a lot to consider. First reaction is that it's very, very accurate, particularly in my case. I don't know what to do with the knowledge I think I gained from what you said----but it's interesting to think about it. A few years ago, I was collecting radios, making purchases frequently. That obsession was replaced by watches. And before the radios, it was a smaller watch obsession. Back in the 1980s/90s, it was recorded music---albums and later, CDs.

Ed S.

It could be worse. You could be a bored billionaire running for president in order to sate your ennui.

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