Digressions: Teaching, Tech, and Why We Shop at Amazon

Kindle NookWhen you teach an adult education class, you learn a lot about people.

They are not necessarily there to learn.

They are lonely.

They are retired.

They want to make friends.

The young, single students drop out at once, horrified by the others’ wrinkles and gray hair.

I found my students’ age disconcerting at first.  When my husband recently pointed out that we are closer to 70 than 40, I shrieked.  (Remind me:  dye my hair, lose 50 pounds, have plastic surgery, then regain 50 pounds plus ten more…  No, I’m not gonna bother.)

The young, lonely high-school Latin teacher, whose first job was at a huge public school, was clearly dismayed by the age of her fellow students.  Intimidated by the sight reading–what was I thinking of to ask her?–and the lack of a peer group, she didn’t come back.  And at the end of the year, the poor girl quit her job and moved away.

The older students learned, chatted and digressed.

Anyonw can sign up for a non-credit adult ed class.   It was my first experience of what I call “teaching in a public school.”

I’m not snobbish about public schools.  I went to public schools.  The best students learn; the worst (or low-track students) learn little.  And it’s not always the teacher’s fault, though teachers are blamed for everything.   If you think you can teach a third-generation Welfare student whose parents’ minds are burned out on cocaine, or a young man in a gang whose older brother was shot on the streets, good luck to you!

Homework was a foreign language to half of my adult ed students.

But here’s what I learned:  they are all fantastic at tech.

One of my students downloaded books we recommended right there in the classroom.   (Now that I have an e-reader, I don’t find this amazing.)

After buying the book, he said, “Amazon has the best website in the world.”

But, “Traitor!” said a student who worked at Borders.

Borders was going down.  A few years later, when I ran into this student-bookseller at Barnes and Noble, he explained the failure of Borders.  The corporate culture had changed,  it adopted a retail business model, neglected the book culture,  hired people who didn’t know books, and also missed out on the e-reader trend.

Borders was an excellent store.  I miss it very much.

But, traitor or not, I agree with my other student:  Amazon has the best website in the world.

Amazon has a bad rep these days–in the Amazon vs. Hachette struggle,  we all act as though Hachette were a cozy little company instead of a corporation.

But perhaps it’s not as simple as we think. Hugh Howey, a science fiction writer who started out self-publishing and then was picked up by a major publisher, recently wrote an essay for the Guardian attacking Hachette.  The fight, it turns out, is over e-book pricing.  And he believes that Amazon is in the right.

He says,

High ebook prices harm not only individual readers but readership in general. And Hachette’s authors suffer from lost sales due to uncompetitive prices. With reasonable prices, Hachette could continue to move units, and Amazon would be able to earn the margin a retailer is owed by not having to discount for its customers at great sacrifice to itself.

I don’t have a Kindle, so this battle does not concern me.  I am, however, very sorry for the Hachette writers.

On the one hand, my husband and I think Jeff Bezos goes too far; on the other hand,  we give each other Amazon gift cards on our anniversary.

One half of our mind knows things are out of control; the other half ignores it.

But Amazon has certainly done some very good things for us.  I have ordered countless used books I would never have found elsewhere.  My shelves are filled with out-of-print books by Martha Gellhorn, Balzac, George Meredith, and Anna Kavan, and were often bought for a penny (with the $3.99 delivery charge).

I very much enjoy Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscovery Series, published by Amazon. Pearl, a librarian, has chosen several neglected out-of-print books for this series.

The Kindle singles are also interesting.  (You can read those on a Kindle app if you don’t have a Kindle.)

Twenty years from now, everything will be different.  Eventually someone will come along and put Amazon out of business.

Perhaps Jeff Bezos will move into outer space. Doesn’t he have a rocket?  And the rest of us will be dodging drones.

Yes, we’ll still be shopping at Amazon.

6 thoughts on “Digressions: Teaching, Tech, and Why We Shop at Amazon

  1. I too have a conflict about Amazon. They probably do wrong to some of their suppliers, but they are a great place to shop. If I go to the mall, everything is set up for the convenience of 15-year-olds. Consequently via Amazon during the past year I have purchased underpants, cotton socks, a bathrobe and pool flipflops. So fuss, no bother, good prices and fast delivery.

    And they sell books too!


  2. My students at Oscher are also mostly retired older people but I agree that many students coming to adult education or non-degree learning are there to find friends. In the middle 1980s I taught at the Northern Regional Center for the University of VA, both courses for teachers looking to up their accreditation and adult ed and saw this. I am going to teach to socialize 🙂

    As to Amazon, you are judicious. Yes for years Amazon functioned for me as a bookstore I can get all sorts of books at I’d have no hope for, as a books in print site, as a research tool. It still does, a bit, but it is no longer to be relied on, it’s hard to find good editions if Amazon wants another to sell, and Hachette is not the only bookseller it erases. So in a way it’s a liar — it does present itself as selling all the books on offer it can and it does not. I has hurt far more booksellers than Hachette. I use it still keeping this reservation in mind: this site is not to be believed. Buyer beware.


  3. Nancy, it is very convenient. I have bought things it is simply a hassle to carry on a bicycle, including drapes and cookie sheets. And the service is fantastic at Amazon.

    Ellen, heavens, if I were taking an adult ed class it would be to socialize, too! And, bookwise, one tip for shopping at Amazon, at least if you’re looking for a classic, is to type in a publisher along with the title. Otherwise a lot of expensive print on demand books HAVE been coming up in the last year or so. I don’t know when this started, but it can be annoying.


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