I’m Not Banksy, But My Drawings in Amazon’s Elevators Came Close

At my desk, I was an entry-level Amazonian. But in the elevator, I was an artist.
December 1, 2016, 4:50pm
Advice from an Amazon elevator.

Editor's note: Amazon's success has been powered by a work environment that's rather unique among major corporations, and occasionally former Amazonians have offered to share with Motherboard readers some insight into what the day-to-day is like. Previously: At Amazon, Employees Treat the Bathroom Like an Extension of the Office.

Whiteboards are a key part of any technology company. You can sketch system architectures, business strategies, lines of code. When I worked at Amazon, our elevators were lined with them.

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An elevator ride in a less-than-ten story building is never long enough to conduct any substantial whiteboard business. Instead, the whiteboards became a medium for candid self-expression from employees.

The drawings, whether they were mine or my coworkers, captured short moments of pure honesty as we headed in and out of the office. The messages were often simple. I don't attribute this to the people, but rather the brevity of the trips. The scribbles would often be basic notes like "I hate Mondays!" or "Happy Friday!" with many people adding "+1" to express approval.

People often assume I was an engineer when I say I worked for a technology company. That's probably racist, and definitely incorrect. At my desk, I was an entry-level Amazonian. But in the elevator, I was an artist.

Most of the photos I've shared are my own scrawlings. This was mostly my selfish human nature: I thought my art was better. But I imagine others did the same—scrambling to photograph their own inside jokes, not even telling their friends at work which "pieces" were theirs.

I saw expressions of frustration, joy, and humor, some my own. There's no shortage of criticism and employee-penned defense—I don't intend to add to the pile here. But I saw both sides in the elevator.

But sometimes, you'd catch a glimpse into the psyche and morale of the individuals that made up our company, based on the doodles.

Some of the scribbles were genuinely funny. This was the first time I'd seen "Don't let your dreams be memes." It was the perfect bit of office humor: short, funny, tinged with a sense of hopelessness and despair anyone can relate to. I'd later Google to find this is a certified dank meme that did not originate in our elevator.

The second part, "Fill Your Life with the Tears of People," was also funny. (I believe it said "Smiles" before "Tears.")

An employee's simple addition of the NSFW tag to a poster, I saw as a flash of brilliant wit.

Other writings were a bit darker. A simple shaded letter: Playoffs were now Layoffs. This was not my work, but was amazed how one small edit subverted the entire message. After all there were so many "jokes" internally and externally of drones replacing workers. This was true art. I was inspired.

I found my true calling. Yes, I was still just an entry-level employee. But when I stepped in the elevator, I was a subversive temporary graffiti artist, not unlike Banksy. I wanted people to go higher than ten floors. In their mind.

People loved football. Someone liked "the NYT" a bit less. I assume they were talking about the New York Times, but I cannot say with 100 percent certainty because I didn't write it.

I hypothesized this employee, lashing out on the paper of record because of the "hit piece" on Amazon, had a case of Stockholm syndrome stronger than mine. But I came to realize that's an entitled comparison, as hostages don't get a salary, medical, or vision benefits.

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After carefully measured externally-facing responses from company employees and company in the media, this was a rare expression of raw emotion that I didn't agree with, but understood. Please note this happened long before a certain butternut-squash-hued demagogue began targeting the Times. This phrase did not carry the same message it would today.

Sometimes I'd write "the article…" just to see what people would write back. It wasn't my best work. In retrospect, it was a dick move. But the most controversial art is simple, to the point, and evokes strong feelings. This piece definitely evoked strong reactions, because whenever I would write it, it would only stay up for a few minutes before being erased in a subsequent elevator ride.

When I wasn't trying to annoy my coworkers, I was trying to impress them. The +1 was coveted praise for me. To scream into the void, and have someone reply, "Yeah, me too" was reaffirming, like a hug, or a favorite from Twitter.com.

I would sometimes toss up ideas I had, as a way of doing market research.

Here, I tested my binary concept restaurant, "Soup or Gyro." A play on the phrase "Super Hero," you can only get soup, or a gyro. No one +1'd it, which is fine. I wasn't mad about it then, and I still am not today. Many people laughed at Steve Jobs when he invented the computer, but who's laughing now?

Here, I tried to explain how business works. Leads are entered into the Cloud, which then return to Earth in the form of Money. It looks like one other person had an opinion on this, then another decided that opinion was not valid. It's important to note, when given the option, people will censor each other.

I would often write "Free Gucci Mane," simply because no one else did. Metadata would show this photo was taken August 25, 2015. Gucci Mane is a free man today.

As an unofficial member of the Kanye for President street team, I also confirmed there is at least one other employee whose entertaining the idea of the greatest artist of our time becoming the Head of State.

In this piece, I campaigned for a Ketchum-Oak presidential campaign, before Pokémon Go came out. No one appreciated it then, but here we are today.

People in general, and especially at my company, loved freebies. Whether it was leftover cookies or catering from a meeting, if you sent an email saying free stuff was available, it would be gone within minutes. I'd like to think at least one person went to the second floor and asked where the soup was.

This piece was arguably my most provocative. Inspired by the promotional poster talking about climbing the corporate ladder, it was the last piece I crafted before leaving the company the following month.

Like any brave and groundbreaking graffiti artist, I'd sometimes run into obstacles. For example, I could be taking a photo of my work, when the elevator would open. What if they saw me documenting my work? I'd be exposed, possibly scolded. In my haste, I'd sometimes end up with photos of the floor.