Life Without the Tech Giants

Life Without the Tech Giants

Life Without the Tech Giants
Gizmodo, January 22, 2019
Tech » Goodbye Big Five
By Kashmir Hill

“The common retort to these concerns is that you should “just stop using their services.” So I decided to try.”

 

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple collectively make products that we love, products that we hate (but can’t stop using), and products that dictate how we communicate and how we are seen. Their devices and services make our lives easier than they’ve ever been before, yet more complicated in unforeseen ways. They are so ubiquitous and fundamental to our lives that their offerings have replaced core functions of our brains. We’re now realizing it’s as possible to get addicted to these buttons, clicks, screens, and scrolls as it is to get hooked on nicotine or heroin. Who, after all, can deny the high that comes from an Instagram like?

 

Maybe you’re in the camp of people who worry that these companies have too much access to our purchases, our movements, our social networks—and perhaps even our thoughts. Maybe you’re disturbed by the concentration of so much economic power in a handful of companies built on the West Coast’s fault lines. Or maybe you want them to have less insight into your life so they have less sway over our society. But how? How do you reduce their power? Is it even possible?

 

The common retort to these concerns is that you should “just stop using their services.” So I decided to try.

 

This is a story of how, over six weeks, I cut them out of my own life and tried to prevent them from knowing about me or monetizing me in any way—not just by putting my iPhone in a drawer for a week or only buying local, but by really, truly blocking these companies from accessing me and vice versa. I wanted to find out how hard it would be—or if I could even do it—given that these tech giants dominate the internet in so many invisible ways that it’s hard to even know them all.

 

It’s not just logging off of Facebook; it’s logging off the countless websites that use Facebook to log in. It’s not just using DuckDuckGo instead of Google search; it’s abandoning my email, switching browsers, giving up a smartphone, and living life without mapping apps. It’s not just refusing to buy toilet paper on Amazon.com; it’s being blocked from reading giant swaths of the internet that are hosted on Amazon servers, giving up websites and apps that I didn’t previously know were connected to the biggest internet giant of them all.

 

People have done thought experiments before about which of the “frightful five” it would be hardest to live without, but I thought it would be more illuminating, if painful, to do an actual experiment: I would try to block a tech giant each week, to tell the tale of life without it. At the end of those five weeks, I’d try to block all of them at once. God help me.

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About the Author:

Kashmir Hill is the deputy editor for the Special Projects Desk, which produces investigative work across all of Gizmodo Media Group’s web sites. She writes about privacy and technology.

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