Reddit is caught in a Nietzschean cycle of eternal recurrence where everyone asks the same questions every few weeks, and one of the common ones is “What is the best purchase you ever made?” The top answer is always “Amazon Prime”, and I always told myself to think about getting Amazon Prime, then never got around to doing so.
When I moved in with Mike, he already had Amazon Prime and I was able to piggyback off his account because we lived at the same household. And once again the Reddit hivemind has proven startlingly accurate.
My old algorithm for choosing a product was something like this:
1. Realize need for product
2. Go to store
3. Look over shelves full of competing brands of product
4. Reach for product with shiniest packaging
5. Think “No! That would not be virtuous!” Snatch back outreached arm.
6. Studiously examine marketing claims on packaging of all products.
7. Try to parse incomprehensible, unverifiable assertions like “Special n-acetylcysteine strip makes our product 150 kilojoules more convenient than competing brand!”
8. Furrow brow
9. Finally choose product which is cheap, but not too cheap, because the one that’s too cheap might be poor quality.
10. Be consumed by self-doubt.
My new algorithm for choosing a product goes more like this:
1. Type name of product into Amazon
2. Limit search to Prime-eligible and sort by average customer review
3. Find the inevitable five-star rated product which is also pretty cheap and has dozens of customer reviews all saying some variant on “I’ve used hundreds of different [product_type]s before, and finally my sainted grandmother, may she rest in peace, recommended [brand_name] to me. It was by far the best I’ve ever seen and I can’t believe it costs so little. [brand_name] has revolutionized my [product_type]-using-experience and I’m never going back to any of those other brands again!”
4. Buy that one
To my surprise, this second algorithm works a lot better.
(I’m not being sarcastic with that “to my surprise”, by the way. I have such a high prior for things not working – for magically returning themselves to baseline via mysterious set points despite all evidence that they shouldn’t – that it really did surprise me to find the second algorithm working better than the first.)
I have since successfully bought curtains that actually block light so that you can’t see it, industrial-strength earmuffs which I wear all the time people aren’t actively trying to talk to me and sometimes when they are, a laptop which has served me well beyond the incessant clicking noise (but see “earmuffs”, above), these amazing computer speakers that people actually remark upon, and a dream diary that legitimately looks like a sinister 16th-century magical grimoire while costing less than some non-grimoire-looking books.
Looking around the room for things to include in the above list, I also spot an Amazon purchase good enough that I feel compelled to mention it despite its not being recommended by Amazon. Andrew Rettek recommend for me IRON GYM, which aside from having the manliest name in the world is this really interesting contraption you attach to your door to turn it into a pull-up bar. I have no idea why I got it since I’m terrible at sticking to even non-contraption-requiring exercises like situps and pushups, but for some reason it seems to work. I think, as strange as this will be to relate, that the difference is that I have to shift to a near-the-floor position for situps and pushups, whereas I can just make use of the pull-up bar immediately when walking through a door without any positional change required. Judging by my difficulty getting off my comfy computer chair to do useful things, or getting out of bed in the morning, I think either people’s bodies or just my body may view change between sitting/lying and standing as some kind of bizarrely relevant millisecond-level-discounting trivial inconvenience cost factor when deciding what to do. In any case, the IRON GYM seems to work and I am now capable of multiple pull-ups, which would shock any of my high school gym teachers or really anyone else who knows anything about me at all.
It always makes me kind of surprised when things actually work the way I learned about in economics class. The first time I ever boycotted a company, I got inordinately excited walking past the store and not buying their products, because I was actually exerting economic power and affecting the market, just like those people in thought-experiments! And of course after three seconds I realized this was hilarious because of course everything I have bought or not bought since the moment I was born has been doing that. But until then it had always seemed like a passive process – buy something that doesn’t look terrible, or that a friend had used and not had any problems with, then hope for the best. That first boycott (I can’t even remember the company) made me feel like an active participant in the system again. And buying from Amazon is neat because it makes me feel the same way.