In The Hidden Life of an Amazon User, Joana Moll tracks down and makes visible the energy costs of a book purchase on Amazon.
In order to to make the purchase, Amazon requires the customer to go through twelve different interfaces made of large amounts of code that carry out various operations – to organize and style the site’s content, to allow interactivity and record the user's activity. Overall, a total of 1307 different requests to scripts and documents are involved in the purchase, equalling to 8724 A4 pages of printed code and up to 87.33Mb of information. The average amount of energy needed to load each web interface, along with their endless fragments of code, is 30 w/h.
The Amazon business model is based on an “obsessive customer focus”, which entails “constantly listening to customers to enhance and improve the customer experience” - in other words, a continuous tracking and recording of customer behavior in order to amplify the monetization of the user, and ultimately to increase business revenues.
The 8724 pages of code for tracking and personalizing user behaviour, involuntarily loaded by the customer through the browser, relentlessly put Amazon’s money-making strategy at work. Moreover, all the energy needed to load the relatively large portion of information is unloaded onto the customer, who thus assumes not only costs of Amazon's hidden monetization processes, but also a portion of the company's environmental footprint.
The Hidden Life of an Amazon User casts light on this often unacknowledged but brutal exploitation of the user, which forms the core of internet business strategies. Such strategies rely on apparently neutral, personalized user experiences, afforded by attractive interfaces that obfuscate sophisticated business models embedded in endless pages of code, activated by user labor. To put it bluntly, the user is not just exploited by means of free labor but also forced to assume the energy costs of such exploitation.
The piece narrates the journey endeavoured by the customer within the intricate labyrinth of interfaces and code that make the purchase of a book possible. It allows you to navigate through the interfaces, explore the vast amount of code hidden “behind” them, and witness the mounting energy costs paid for by the Amazon customer.
You may wonder which book Joana Moll purchased for her research? The Life, Lessons & Rules for Success by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The project was developed at a residency with Impakt, Utrecht in 2018. It will be presented by m-cult in the Network Effects exhibition at Oodi Helsinki, 17.11.-1.12.2019. The residency and exhibition are realized in context of the European Media Art Network EMAP programme, supported by Creative Europe programme.