The story on Amazon's work environment has drawn a great deal of attention, and some pushback. It's a sobering account of workplace trends that asks just who we are as a culture, and what kind of lives we intend to lead. Because the story isn't just about the lower level employees, but its high-flyers. And is an ever-intensifying, cutthroat-competitive pressure cooker with data as the fuel really where we need to go as a society? Because some of the employees sound downright embracing of just that. And so I say the article raises questions of our aspirations, for ourselves, not just of market pressures.
It strikes a bit close to home, in that I published Phineas at Bay through an Amazon company, CreateSpace, and I was very pleased with the care and creativity they invested in supporting my book. The physical book is attractive, the Kindle edition as well, and the result was most gratifying. But even more than that, the fact that the team was available for questions, hand-holding, and concerns (rational or not), was a comfort. They made the production of the edited manuscript into a book easy. I'm uneasy at the thought that I may be complicit in so all-consuming an atmosphere.
Some will speak in defense of the company, and point out ameliorating factors--policies not followed, anecdotes of supportive managers and co-workers. Others may defend the stark nature of the workplace depicted in the article, whether true or not, and valorize its efficiency. I have no easy answers, here. But I am reminded of the ending to the book Cheaper By the Dozen, the story of the family life of the early efficiency experts Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth:
"Someone once asked Dad: But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it? "We must not become so efficient and single-minded that we lose all the time we are saving.
For work, if you love that best, said Dad. For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure. He looked over the top of his pince-nez. For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies."