Bite the Apple, Escape the Amazon Jungle?

Admittedly a bit of an esoteric title, but in this post I’m talking about something that sent me on a tirade at home this morning after finding out last night the latest shock to my system: Amazon Prime Music opening up all 100 million songs of Amazon Music Unlimited, but limiting all songs to shuffle mode with it and “related tracks” that Amazon picks out for me, when previously I could listen to 2 million songs on Prime normally, i.e. make playlists and play whole albums and playlists in the order I wanted and that they originally came in.

I have a habit where I like to get to sleep by asking the Amazon Alexa Echo Dot at my bedside to play me one of my playlists, in last night’s case a performance of Richard Wagner’s magnificent “Parsifal”. Well, I was in for a rude awakening at last midnight as I couldn’t get her to play my playlist or my album, just “related tracks” that had nothing to do with what I wanted or my album but only in shuffle mode. Searching online bleary-eyed, I discovered this horrid change that no doubt was approved by Steve Boom (Vice President for Amazon Music) and Andy Jassy (CEO of Amazon), which has made my Amazon Music feature of my Prime subscription almost unusable.

I don’t know what whoever send out that email touting the “improvement” to the user experience has been smoking, but they should try to put a lullaby or some white noise on to go to sleep to at night and see how much they like it when someone substitutes some half-baked random pop song into the mix instead. They also should really try to listen to any of Richard Wagner’s operas on shuffle mode. Go ahead: I dare you, you fiends.

What is even the point of having 100 million songs available if you can’t tell Alexa to put on the one you want!? This whole move is obviously a money-grab designed to extort people accustomed to listening to Prime Music to shell out the $8.99 a month that Amazon Music Unlimited costs. As if the $139 I pay them every year already for Amazon Prime isn’t enough. Pay, pay, pay, mulct, mulct, mulct, that’s all they want: more of my money for less service.

Lockdown and its Consequences…

Which I’ve noticed is a pattern in everything — every business, every organization, every institution in this whole wretched country — since the lockdown era began in March 2020: more money for less service. It’s as if our rulers have achieved some sort of bureaucratic gnosis since the lockdown, their vision now beholding the reality that they can get away with providing far less to people than they used to and still take in the same amount of money, suffering no consequences whatsoever, not even any loss of business from their customers, who will nod like monkeys as the sadists-in-chief say with a barely-disguised grin “because pandemic”.

So, being consummate psychopaths obviously bereft of the slightest sense of pride in their work, our rulers, corporate and governmental alike, increasingly just don’t bother anymore to clear any bar for behavior beyond “good enough so we’re not literally put in prison”, and given how much our legal system overlooks outright fraud and theft even on the most massive scale, let alone any lesser offenses, that’s a very low bar indeed.

The upshot? Almost three years after the initial lockdowns, almost two years after everything “reopened” and went “back to normal”, our society has yet to truly recover even the most basic functions that degraded or even disappeared altogether during the COVID-19 pandemic, and at this point I doubt if anything will ever get better again for the foreseeable future; my sinking suspicion that the damage done to my life, our lives, by the lockdown will prove permanent is looking more and more prescient with each passing month. If the level of service in our society was ever going to, wouldn’t it have recovered by now, two years after the first round of reopenings? If not by now, then when?

This move by Amazon is but the latest in a long line of rug-pulls in my life, of disappointment, frustrations, and betrayals, but I’ve noticed that such experiences have become far more common since the lockdown era began. It’s like we were in an era of stagnation before, but since 2020, especially with the hindsight of almost three years, it seems like we’ve entered a social phase change into collapse. It’s slow-motion, sure, but it’s there. I hope I’m wrong, because if I’m right about this then the future looks very bleak indeed unless we make radical changes to our society (which might be forthcoming; after all, the sentiment that “populism” taps into hasn’t come from nowhere…).

The Decline and Fall of the Amazon Empire: the earliest Signs are here

I’ve noticed also a pattern evident before the lockdown era but accelerating markedly after 2020 of institutions, including companies, shifting from providing the best service to just trying to extract as much money from you as quickly as possible, damn the future. Amazon for a long time was a pleasant exception to that trend, with Jeff Bezos’s vision of being “the most customer-centric company in the world”, coming out with a suite of innovative new technologies and techniques every few years, but in Bezos’s later years at the helm the experience started to degrade, even as the costs of using the service crept up. This hideous trend has accelerated under his successor, Andy Jassy, who has sought to cut costs and raise prices while providing less service, with innovation no longer being a priority.

For a long time I invested substantial sums of money in Amazon, but recent news has chilled my view of the company and its future, with this summary proving to be the last straw for me. Amazon’s secret was running a big company like it was still a start-up, but now it’s going to be a big company that’s run like…well, a big company. Where’s the edge there? It’s nowhere. Do I want to be invested in a company like that? No. So I sold all of my shares on October 12, 2022, for a handsome gain in all fairness, and the three weeks since have made me more confident in my decision. First their earnings report came out and it was pretty bad, and now they pull this with Amazon Music? Sure, sure, maybe their stock price will recover and soar to new heights for the nonce, but it’s clear to me that the company has lost its touch.

Quantity has a Quality all Its own: Digital Subscription Edition

So, from now on will my two Echo Dots be useful only for setting timers, telling me the weather, and notifying me when my packages arrive? Nope. Turns out that I’ve got a free subscription to Apple Music included on my Verizon phone plan (which is the most expensive one they offer; I use a lot of mobile data, especially hotspot data), and Alexa includes an Apple Music skill. I just signed up for it, added my music and my playlists like I have on Prime Music, and now I tell my Echo Dot to “play XYZ on Apple Music” and it plays just like normal. Better than normal, actually, since the selection is better than Prime Music was; I just didn’t want to bother with setting it up before when most of my favorites I could play on Prime Music and the rest I could just stream on my TV via Youtube Premium.

I’m relatively heavily loaded on digital subscriptions, but it pays off. I have both cable Internet at home and my mobile data plan, and oftentimes if one is slow or not working I just switch to the other one. That redundancy costs me extra money but it saves me a lot in frustration. In this case springing for an unlimited phone plan all those years ago and having multiple sources of music streaming ready to go saved me from having a very bad day.

Really, everything should just work, without people having to resort to such extreme measures, but if you want and expect that then you’re derided as a communist or something, or at least a pie-in-the-sky dreamer. But the truth is that’s not too much to expect! We have the technical and economic ability to prevent rug-pulls like what Amazon’s pulled this month from ever being imposed on us again, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Maybe you should keep up with the Joneses?

For the nonce, hooray Verizon and Apple! Taking a bite from the big forbidden red apple has allowed me to escape the jungles of the Amazon. Hehe. I was coincidentally reading just the other day about the Gnostic interpretations of the Eden story as well as the different views of Satan and the serpent, which takes you down some really interesting rabbit holes when you consider it in light of the very ancient and surprisingly pan-Western snake cult (the Minoans are just the tip of the iceberg…).

Anyway, it’s rather interesting to me that people give “keeping up with the Joneses” a bad rap, but a big reason I have as much of this digital stuff I do is so I can have all the same things my friends have, who all have bigshot smartphones and Verizon mobile data plans and Apple Music. I’m pursuing a college degree right now mostly because pretty much all of my friends have one; I’m even literally gunning for the same degree from the same college as my best friend got.

Believe it or not, I haven’t spent my whole life copying everything my friends have and do, but over the past few years I’ve tried it out for a spin and I’ve found I…actually kinda like it? I eschew plenty of things I know for sure I’m not interested in or wouldn’t like, but if I’m on the fence about something I’ve cultivated a heuristic where if my friends have it or do it I should say yes, and it’s steered me in good directions, often in unexpected ways, like what happened to me today.

A huge factor in this is probably that my immediate social circle is comprised of high-quality wholesome people not terribly unlike myself who have found some modicum of success in life, so take this experience with a grain of salt depending on what your own associates are like. Nevertheless, it is striking: what you’re usually told the world is like and what advice you’re usually told to follow for success in life might not consist of the best or most truthful ideas. A little bite at that apple might light up your path in a big way.

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