Don Cunningham: Advice for Amazon, Facebook, and Those Who Use Them

By Colin McEvoy on January 16, 2019

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on January 16, 2019. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

My adult kids have taken to calling me The Dean.

It’s short for The Dean of Standards. The nickname is applied with love, but it’s unclear whether it’s meant to be positive.

I seem to have earned it by offering unsolicited advice, or “standards,” on how things should be done. They are unplanned pronouncements delivered with an annoying certainty that removes gray area.

“Don’t use a credit card unless you can pay off the balance every month.”

“Music can’t be considered good unless someone is actually playing an instrument in the song.”

“The only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.”

I tend to do it in the office, too.

Most of the staff is a little older than my kids but younger than me. My irritating habit of wanting to teach is probably about as popular with them but, oddly, they seem to take it better. I’m thinking it’s because I sign the checks.

“Success comes through attention to details.”

“Anyone can paint in broad strokes. A masterpiece is in the details.”

And, my favorite borrowed one: “If you think small things don’t matter, try spending a night alone in a tent with a mosquito.”

Years of these free-flowing aphorisms finally got me labeled The Dean by the kids a few years ago.

“Wow, Dad, you sure have a lot of standards,” the youngest one said while he was in college. “You’re like a Dean of Standards.”

The name has stuck. Now when my daughter calls, she just says, “Hello, Dean.” I’ve come to like it, probably because I love them.

This is my 28-year-old daughter, who a few years ago argued with me that human shadows could be seared or flashed into a wall without a nuclear explosion and become permanent.

I asked her for the source of this new scientific discovery.

“I read it on Facebook,” she said.

“But, what’s the source?”

She was quiet for a while, stuttered, than said, “Ah, his name is Everett.”

Turned out, Everett351 had an interest in the paranormal but no foundation in science.

This led to The Dean issuing another standard.

“Don’t get your news from Facebook.”

This was before the 2016 presidential election, so I was ahead of my time.

While I do believe that you should be prohibited from voting if Facebook is your primary source of news and political information, I am a Facebook fan.

The level of vitriol and anger aimed at Facebook, Amazon and the rest of Big Tech the last few months by the media and chattering classes is both overblown and hypocritical.

A new standard seems to have emerged for hating what we love.

Facebook was developed as a platform to meet people, connect with friends and family and stay in touch with their lives. That’s why grandparents love it so much. There’s much less guilt now about moving to Florida.

I’m pretty sure when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was in his dorm room at Harvard noodling on the future Facebook, he was thinking of his grandm, not the Russians and Trump. I know he wasn’t dreaming of one day hiring an army of nerds to examine a billion posts a day to determine what is fake news, improperly targeted advertising or hateful and inappropriate content.

He probably also didn’t think this would make him a billionaire, which is the real reason he’s on the hot seat and expected to guard us from all we can’t handle.

Here’s my unsolicited advice to Zuckerberg and his team. A disclaimer to Facebook users:

You are about to share all your personal information, likes and dislikes and life history, including possible photos of your babies two minutes after they are born with an interconnected web of people around the globe. Some of those people are good, like your grandma, and some of them are bad. Some are advertisers.

You are about to see content from people and organizations all around the world, some of it will be good and some will be bad. You’re also about to see shocking viewpoints from people you know and like that will change your view of them.

We cannot police this for you. Remember, this is voluntary. If you can’t handle it, please don’t sign up. We didn’t mean for it to end up like this. Sorry grandma.

That’s free from The Dean to Zuckerberg. He can use it directly.

Now, as to Amazon and the rest of the online retailers.

If you order products online and have them delivered to your door, you are not allowed to complain about trucks on the road. This falls into the same category as if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the government.

Who do you think made Amazon the highest valued company today and Jeff Bezos worth $135 billion? Us.

Only his impending divorce can reduce his net worth.

People are inherently lazy and love little wrapped gifts and surprises, even if we know what’s in them. So, the idea of sitting on the couch, ordering things and having someone bring them to our door is appealing. Voila, a new industry is created: e-commerce.

And, yes, trucks deliver the packages.

Nonetheless, we go online, order packages, try on clothes, return them if they don’t fit and have someone carry a new package to our door all the while complaining about the explosion of warehouses in the Lehigh Valley.

Ah, we are fickle people.

The warehouses are not even warehouses. They are fulfillment centers — large factories — often employing more than a thousand workers around the clock. The average minimum wage is $15 per hour, lifting the living standards of 30,000 workers in the Lehigh Valley, a majority of whom have limited skills. In most places in America, these workers would have little chance to support themselves.

And for the cherry on top: This is all market driven, not government regulated, and most products Amazon delivers are from small retailers who use it to find new customers.

In past generations, the titans of such job-creating industries were feted. Today, Bezos and Amazon are getting ripped for building two new headquarters and hiring 50,000 new workers at high wages. His real sin is getting too big and too rich.

It’s a brave new world of new standards.

The Dean and his standards appear to be a bit out-of-date, but I’ll give it a shot.

You’re not allowed to hate what you love and what you use, and then complain about what it creates.

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