Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Damaged Goods!

Thursday, August 05, 2004
Ever since I began coordinating the unit Self.Net: Communicating Identity in the Digital Age at the University of WA, I've had less time on my hands, but am also suddenly escaping the tighter finances of a scholarship. As a present to myself, I decided to indulge and order myself two classics I've wanted copies of for ages--The Medium of the Video Game [Paperback] edited by Mark J. P. Wolf and Narrative As Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media by Marie-Laure Ryan--and two new (hardback!) books which I've recently flicked through and can see myself using a lot, namely First Person : New Media as Story, Performance, and Game edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin & Pat Harrigan, and Sean Cubitt's brilliant The Cinema Effect.

Feeling particularly lazy, I rather fancied the idea of getting home one day and finding these books waiting for me, so I ordered them through Amazon.com. True to form, a big plastic bag was waiting for me when I got home yesterday and I was again impressed with the fact that books ordered from the US were sitting in my house in Perth, Western Australia within ten days, even with their cheapest (although, in all fairness, not actually cheap) shipping option. However, when I picked up the yellow bag, I noticed that it was heavier than I would have expected, and the box I presumed was inside seemed oddly curved. Had I been sent clothing by mistake? Was this something else altogether? In a bout of curiousity, I cut the top from the bag and found a box from Amazon, complete with that unmistakable logo, but the logo seemed slightly more curved than usual ... and I suddenly realised ... with a sinking feeling ... that the box was completely soaked through with water and the logo was extra-curvey because the box itself was falling apart!! I pulled the box open (which was remarkably easy when it has all the structure of paper mache!) and saw my books inside a plastic layer. Was this enough to protect them? Hardly. The plastic was firm, but the books inside were soaked and, more to my horror, the smell coming from this stack of books was almost putrid. As I cut through the plastic and opened the top two books, here's what I found [Click on the Images to Enlarge]:

First Person (hardback!) arrived with a soggy cover...

... an inside where most of the ink had run...

... and a back cover that was literally dripping inky water(!) ...

... and The Medium of the Video Game arrived already growing mould!
Finding that the other two books were in similar condition I found myself surprisingly upset by this sad state of four books that I had so dearly wished to treasure as my own! After thinking for a little while, I realised that the state of mould meant that these books must have been wet for at least two to three days and that since the yellow plastic satchel bag itself was dry in the outside, someone during the shipping process had taken this bag, already soaked with water (it almost looks like it was dropped in a swamp!), and placed that soaking bag inside plastic, preventing any chance the books had of drying! Now that's just stupid!

After several emails to Amazon, and automated email replies, I discovered that Amazon always requires goods, even damaged goods, to be returned in order for replacements to be sent. But should I be posting mouldy books? Isn't that a health hazard? More to the point, wouldn't a pile of rancid books complete with mould raise a flag at US customs? Would I be suspected of being a terrorist sending toxic elements through the mail? Even after customs determined that these were benign stinky books, not anthrax books, would I be red-flagged in a computer somewhere and be forever "randomly" selected for extra-special attention every time I tried to enter the US for conferences or even just a holiday? I tried to explain this in my strictly limited 200 words on the online return & replacement forms, but even though I told Amazon my woes, I couldn't convince the system that shipping the books back would be difficult (if not impossible!). Finally, in a state of some annoyance, I rang Amazon's international help line and was equally surprised that after explaining my tale of woe to the rather helpful chap at the end of my phoneline--including my paranoid rant about the attempt to return the books causing me to be flagged as a terror suspect--he agreed that the books were their responsilibty to replace and he agreed to arrange replacements to ship within a week. So, that's the story so far: the mouldy books are heading for that great (recycling) rubbish pile in the sky, and one human being at the end of a serviceline understood what one of the most complex automated computer services couldn't: that stinky, rotten books don't travel well. So, I bear no ill will to Amazon and am actually quite pleased with their swift responce once a human being heard my lament. I do wonder, though, who the silly person was who put the soaking box in a plastic bag and then shipped it all the way to Western Australia ...

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