This January, Pitzer College students returned from break to find a large, metal box implanted in concrete next to McConnell dining hall. In the top right corner, the inanimate object is personified to the passerby as they read its introduction, “Hello my name is Lizzie.”
Pitzer’s Lizzie is the fourth addition to the ever-growing fleet of Amazon Lockers on 5C campuses. Elix is the box who lives on CMC, whereas Frary and Smith live on Pomona College’s campus.
While on the surface the lockers have names and are innovative, there is a dark underlying nature to their presence.
Before winter break, a Pitzer student sent an open letter to the Pitzer’s student email forum titled “Stop the Amazon Locker from Coming to Pitzer,” which was addressed to Dan Hirsch, the Associate Dean of Students for Campus Life. In short, the letter expounded on the past and contemporary well-documented instances of exploitative policies perpetuated in Amazon “fulfillment centers” (warehouses), and suggests Amazon does not coincide with Pitzer’s core values of Social Responsibility.
As reported by Salon, in the past, many of Amazon’s warehouses did not have air conditioning, which, when paired with their policy to close their doors for fear of theft, is inhumane. In 2011, for example, when faced with a heatwave in Allentown, Pennsylvania, rather than close down that facility, Amazon stationed ambulances outside their facilities for when employees suffered heat stroke.
While Amazon has since added air conditioning to all facilities, Amazon continues to exploit their workers by pushing them beyond their limits with low wages. Warehouse workers are forced to wear wristband trackers to maintain surveillance, penalizing them for not reaching “target times,” a policy that will inevitably cause overworking.
Unfortunately, simply removing the Amazon Locker is not the solution. As Hirsch points out in his response, the Amazon Locker serves to meet the demand of the students explicitly by the will of the Pitzer College Student Senate, but mainly implicitly by the sheer quantity of Amazon packages the mailroom receives. According to Hirsch, an average of 100 to 125 Amazon packages are delivered to the mailroom each day, and the quantity increases to 350 to 500 Amazon packages daily during the beginning of a new semester or the holidays, which, on top of mail from other carriers, is overwhelming for the mailroom staff.
Given Pitzer’s small size of 1,000 students, such a rate of consumption is astounding. The Amazon Locker is thus not simply a place for students to pick up packages, but rather a physical manifestation of the new age of mass consumerism in America and its permeation throughout the 5Cs.
Mass consumption and, in turn, mass production, is a malevolent force in American culture, a force prevalent in the 5C community. Exploitation, as mentioned previously, occurs when corporations feel comfortable placing their profit margins above their workers’ physical safety and well-being. Mass consumption commonly leads to the exploitation of workers in that, as with Amazon, as the task grows larger and larger, instead of hiring new workers, corporations instead push their employees beyond humane conditions.
Furthermore, the environmental cost of mass consumption is extraordinary. The mass production and packaging of objects expend natural resources at an incomprehensible rate. This is further exacerbated by the shipment of those goods across the country. Moreover, as the product falls into the hands of the consumer, it is only a matter of time until the cheap manufacturing or planned obsolescence renders that object as waste. It is impossible to reconcile these costs when one realizes the emptiness of consumerism. It is based in the delusion that non-essential goods are essential, or that they will vastly improve quality of life.
Almost like an addiction, consumption works as a series of highs; purchasing of an item, receiving a message of its arrival, and opening a package are all moments which emanate excitement and happiness. Yet, those are just moments, unconnected to a deep, existential satisfaction in life.
Consumerism is a culturally ingrained modern life. Whether college students can rise above this desire, and thus diminish its normalization, is the true question of whether mass consumption will ever see its end.
Malcolm McCann PZ '21, is from the Boston area, and enjoys reading and hiking in his leisure time.