The first thing I saw when I walked into Amazon’s Phoenix warehouse was a man riding on a giant tricycle. Behind him, yellow plastic tubs the size of office recycling bins whizzed by on a conveyor belt. On the wall above, six massive words called out to the 1,500 workers who pass through metal detectors each day as they enter this million-square-foot cavern of consumerism: “work hard. have fun. make history.”
Tricycle aside, the “fun” quotient was hard to spot. But I couldn’t help but register a certain historical significance to the operation humming inside this enormous building erected in the industrial flats of Phoenix. The Amazon warehouse–known in company jargon as a “fulfillment center,” or FC–is a uniquely 21st-century creation, a vast, networked, intelligent engine for sating consumer desire. The FC is the anchor of Amazon’s physical operations, the brick and mortar behind the virtual button you tap on your phone to summon a watch or a shirt or a garden hose or Cards Against Humanity or just about anything else to your doorstep.