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Opinion Editorials

Do or die: there’s a store monopoly and Amazon’s the only option left?

(EDITORIAL) The monopoly is growing and competition is fierce, but we should be careful what we wish for – would this monopolistic world really work out to our advantage?

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It’s a mad world

Convenience is great. Choices are even better.

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Unfortunately, we’re creatures of convenience. But what if there weren’t choices and Amazon is our only option?
Let’s say you wake up one day and your local grocer’s, Target, Wal-Mart, and every other similar brick-and-mortar store had closed their gates for good. Maybe you’re thinking, “Who cares? Those guys are over-priced and suck anyway.”

Hold on now; think about it.

The things we take for granted

It’s an oddly satisfying feeling when you can tour a nearby everything-in-one-place joint like Target, find the thing you were looking for, and beeline toward Guest Services and ask (throwing a sheepish grin of utmost innocence and sincerity), “You guys do price matching, right?”

After the transaction is complete, you walk away with a slightly smug sense of self-satisfaction that you beat the system.

You did get to cut the rest of the normal lines, after all. It was worth it to price check the local shops along with mega e-commerce giants like Amazon, EBay, and the like.

You compared and calculated which retailer offered the most bang for your buck, which granted you the use of coupons, and which scored you the most points/rewards, and then ultimately: which spared you the least amount of hassle possible.

Careful what you wish for

Many would prefer the less-hassley-route, especially if said route has a number of different delivery options to choose from, caters to your every whim, and included a special bonus for introverts: no need to leave the house or have an awkward social interaction with someone in your head over and over again.

And this is how they get you.

The immediate impact of all brick-and-mortar businesses closing down would be the massive amount of job loss.

I’ve worked retail and I’ve slung my share of lattes and when you have little experience in anything else, the job-world can be a terrifying place.

Earlier this year Amazon announced that they would be adding 100,000 jobs despite the crumble of many brick-and-mortar locations (yay jobs!).

But does this offset the loss?

Transitional issues arise

In this hypothetical situation in which Amazon is our only option, hordes of people would be affiliated with Amazon in some way or another: whether as a delivery person, warehouse worker handling packing and shipping, software developer, or PR person; Amazon would naturally expand to include more Amabots (term used to describe someone who has drank the Kool-Aid) under their regime.

Even with the foresight of “destruction-by-Amazon,” many companies would not, or not be able to, financially support the re-training of individuals that may be impacted by such an event.

And what of the shade thrown at Amazon’s treatment of its employees?

Does the person working the cash register at a grocery store typically have on-hand the skillset needed to carry over into warehouse worker or driver roles? Maybe we’ll expect a rise in low pay high labor work or an increase in cardboard sign-carrying cup-jinglers at intersections.

Black market jobs and industries will begin to cultivate.

Devices needed in order to access Amazon will become a hot commodity because let’s face it, not everyone is connected to the Internet of Things.

As a result, internet cafes will also become more commonplace for those that don’t have access, because how else are you going to restock the toilet paper?

Marking their territory

In this brave new world, Amazon will undoubtedly expand to cover any remaining territories.

Take into consideration one of Amazon’s target goals: to deliver product to the consumer as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To do this will require the development of new distribution centers in order to be closer and readily available to a broader audience’s location in order to meet promises of same day delivery.

After all, this is now our only method of obtaining groceries and goods. With ghost towns of malls and grocery stores becoming more commonplace, available retail space is now prime for the taking.

This includes services such as Same Day, Prime Now, Amazon Restaurants, and Prime Pantry – all of which are available through Amazon Prime memberships exclusively.

As Amazon is now the chief-supplier of most goods and services with no immediate or accessible competition, they are free to charge whatever they want, whenever they want.

With a monopoly like this, one could hope that the increase in revenue might go toward a “greater good” such as new and innovative technologies for the benefit of humankind.

While wishful thinking for those affected, where’s the incentive for such a powerhouse?

Why should they?

Forced resourcefulness

So while Amazon is rapidly expanding as a company and as an icon, I don’t think we’ll quite run into Mad Max-levels of dystopian destituteness, but it certainly feels like we’re on the way.

First, things like proxy services, privacy-specialized toolbars, and special barrios of the internet where you can buy and sell just about anything you want will become much more widely accessible. Everyone will learn real quick how to grow gardens or care for chickens when their only option is to have food delivered.

Those living in rural areas who rely on the weekly drive up to town to go to Wal-Mart will likely struggle the most.

Aside from this, we’d have very little reason to leave the house.

I mean Amazon is basically already trying to get us accustomed to the “just a touch of a button away” approach with their Amazon Dash doo-dads. They want us to sit on our butts, totally reliant on them.

So no longer can we (or should we, really) blow our paychecks on Moonpies and whistles, but instead must make intelligent, strategic choices about the things we buy, how much, and when. Glob knows when there’s a sudden price hike on “X” item for some finite amount of time.

Or what of availability of goods? If Amazon doesn’t have it, no one does.

Because of these uncertainties, perhaps we’re more inclined to hit up our neighbor, friend, or family member for a cup of sugar, pain reliever, or a clean pair of socks?

Maybe we rally together in communal boycott of our expected reliance on the system and find ways to look for loopholes to take advantage of in order to stay afloat.

No hate

I love Amazon, I really do, but it’s only because I have them to compare to other things. I’d like to not see them become LexCorp, but in this hypothetical it’s worth considering how drastically different our way of living would become if they did have a monopoly on the market.

#therecanonlybeone

Ashe Segovia is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Southwestern University. A huge film nerd with a passion for acting and 80's movies and synthpop; the pop-cultural references are never-ending.

Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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