A Bot That Buys You Random Stuff from Amazon

If your name is Darius Kazemi, that is.

Darius’s bot picks a random word, searches for that word on amazon, and then purchases items from the results list, in order, until the bot hits a pre-determined budget.

From his site:

I’ve had an idea for a long time now. It’s inspired by one of my favorite feelings: when you order something on Amazon, and it’s put on backorder, and then you forget you ordered it, and a year later it arrives—and it’s like a gift you bought yourself.

Well, I thought: what if I just wrote a program to buy stuff for me? The first iteration of this was going to be a program that bought me stuff that I probably would like.

But then I decided that was too boring. How about I build something that buys me things completely at random? Something that just… fills my life with crap? How would these purchases make me feel? Would they actually be any less meaningful than the crap I buy myself on a regular basis anyway?

His first shipment recently arrived, and the objects are just as fascinating as his commentary. Check out his tumblr for more: Random Shopper {via andrew sullivan, of course}.

It would be cool to use this bot to send completely random stuff to random ex-girlfriends or something.

How Whole Foods Primes You to Shop

This article about Whole Foods primed me to buy this book about tricky marketing and the way we’re manipulated to buy more stuff. I hope to have a longer post with original quotations & thoughts from the book published soon, but for now check out an excerpt from How Whole Foods “Primes” You to Buy {fast company}. It addresses the sight any grocery shopper is familiar with:

Flowers, as everyone knows, are among the freshest, most perishable objects on earth. Which is why fresh flowers are placed right up front–to “prime” us to think of freshness the moment we enter the store. Consider the opposite–what if we entered the store and were greeted with stacks of canned tuna and plastic flowers? Having been primed at the outset, we continue to carry that association, albeit subconsciously, with us as we shop.

Too much $#%&

rio 500 mp3 player

I finally got around to watching Objectified on Netflix tonight. It was an entertaining film overall, if not a tad contradictory. Most of the film was spent celebrating consumer goods, and lamenting the fact that precious few of us pause to think about the designer behind our potato peeler. One of the designers interviewed for the film shrugged off the idea of cell phones lasting only a year or two for most upgrade-eager users, an idea I think is pretty scary.

I’m certainly not claiming a higher ground here. I’ve owned no less than six MP3 players over the past twelve years; the 64 megabyte Rio 500 being the first, the 64 gigabyte iPod touch the current. I like shiny new things just as much as the next guy.

But the last part of the film, focussing on sustainability and smarter, less wasteful design ran completely counter to the interviews and profiles from the first part of the film. It felt like a party where there’s an open bar and piles of open cigarette cartons and everyone’s having a great time, followed by a lecture about how smoking and excessive drinking will kill you.

I’m not saying the makers of the film didn’t see or acknowledge this contradiction. Maybe  it’s just the English major in me, always trying to find something to criticize so I can get a ten-page paper (or 250 word blog post) out of it.

Check out the trailer:

Do you go out of your way to step on crunchy leaves?

Via NPR comes a site called hunch, a customized product recommendation engine based on questions it asks about your every opinion, peeve, and whim.

Like, “can you name all the planets in the solar system?” (No.)

At first, I thought the site was dumb and creepy.

“When you stay at an out-of-town friend’s house overnight, what do you tend to do to your bedsheets the next morning?” (Make the bed.)

But eventually the site sort of grew on me. It felt as though someone actually cared about the first thing I’d do with $1 million dollar check from winning the lottery. (Pay off my mortgage, which I took to be the nearest facsimile to my real choice, paying off my student loans, which was not an option.)

Someone cares about the stupid stuff I do!

But the larger purpose of Hunch slowly started to set in, after answering an exhausting bout of questions. Hunch is just another crumb from the American pie of dreams: a clever way to sell you things while making you feel special and exactly like everyone else at the same time.

(For instance, Hunch knows I like good coffee and live in a city so it suggests Stumptown, a company who pays for the privilege of being recommended.)

It’s a terribly clever business model, but at the end of the day it brings out the worst in the Internet, which distills everything down to an algorithm; takes the mystery out of life; and makes it feel like the only point of my existence is to buy stuff I don’t need to send a message to the culture at large that I’m hip, I care about the environment, and that I liked taking notes in school because it helped me learn.