Is life offline over? Has BIG TECH changed everything?

When people want to look something up online, chances are they use Google. Online shopping? The first choice is probably Amazon. Browsing social media or messaging your friends? It’s likely people are using Facebook or one of the other platforms it owns, like Instagram or WhatsApp…
Recently, a community member, @deven brought up an interesting topic on one of the threads about comments they noticed surrounding PURE. This got me thinking: can we really get away from BIG TECH? Or are we too far down the rabbit hole?

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  • Online searches: Yes
  • Online shopping: Yes
  • Social media: Yes
  • Messaging: Yes
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Big Tech is too big. We can take steps away from them and create a distance, a buffer zone, but they will be there. So, yes, Big Tech changed it and now solutionism is on a rampage. We keep making connected things for some reason. My thought, and what I teach my students, is that in the west we are on course for a Huxley-inspired Brave New World.

When a new tech comes along and disrupts the old, we are forced to use the new one. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. A recent case is a university mealhall in France where the students were forced to install an app or else they were not allowed to dine there source.

Big Tech has given us complicated entertainment machines that generate both harmless leisure and the high levels of consumption. We don’t even bother to check who owns what anymore and they know that. The Facebook empire we know, the Amazon empire covers the social network Goodreads and the movie site IMDB. We try to get away from Amazon and buy a Kobo but it turns out that Rakuten is an empire too…and in Japan you can buy whale products and ivory on their site. We make our open-source software and put it on Github which is Microsoft. Firefox gets large sums of money from Google. And offline it is the same thing, like with the university meal hall mentioned above, some essential services are online only. My mother, who is not tech savvy, spent 3 hours making her vaccine appointments because she had to sign up and then confirm her email, but she didn’t know that and waited…and waited.

We can widen our buffer zone by getting politicians interested in the problems, and by being very selective. Use social media as a tool. Try the FOSS option before the proprietary. Be careful when you agree to terms and conditions.

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@kirkmahoneyphd I was about to tag you in a post because I remember you mentioned that although you deleted all social media, you kept your Amazon account because, as an author, it’s a tool that you find useful to market your books. If any ecommerce platform has been a proving ground for what BIG TECH can do, it’s Amazon. It’s a big data behemoth. How do you balance your desire for internet privacy, while still using such a platform?

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@urszula: I have yet to disentangle my book sales from Amazon, where I sell ebooks and paperbacks. I sell my ebooks also on Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo, and I sell them through Draft2Digital (thereby reaching Apple and many other online retailers). I will move my ebooks away from most, if not all, of these when I can find a way to sell them without taking on the personal responsibility of knowing when to collect sales tax and how much sales tax to collect. I used Lulu for my first two books in hardcover format, but those never sold, so I switched to paperback at CreateSpace for my first two printed books and all subsequent printed books. Amazon owns CreateSpace, so… :slight_smile:

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Add:

  • Dating: Yes

to that list…

I think that’s the wrong question.

You can get away from big tech if you’re sufficiently committed. You can use something like Duckduckgo for search, do online shopping directly from vendors’ websites, etc. Depending on your definition of “getting away” in this context, that may still not be enough, but you can even go further with tools like Tor.

But would you want to? I wouldn’t. I think the better question is, on an individual level, how we can be more intentional about how we interact with big tech. And on a collective level, how we can push the tech giants toward less exploitive business models through regulation, activism, and innovation.

My current phone is even more basic than the Pure. I have no social media accounts other than a Twitter from which I never tweet and that I typically only check once or twice a month when I need to use it for something specific. I have no smart home devices of any kind. In the parlance of this forum, I’ve been living a life of digital minimalism for as long as that has made sense as a distinct concept.

But I choose to continue using Google search while signed into a Google account without any anonymisation, because the search result personalisation that I get in exchange for allowing them to collect data about me saves me time, makes it easier to do my job, and generally removes friction from my interactions with the Internet. I also choose to continue using YouTube while signed into a Google account without any anonymisation, because the algorithm consistently exposes me both to new musicians I enjoy and introduces me to new sources of knowledge that I value highly, from university lectures to book talks to home-grown educational YouTube channels. On the other hand, I don’t let either of them determine my news consumption, for example.

These and many other things aren’t merely valuable in spite of being products of big tech; they’re valuable because they’re products of big tech. Economies of scale, network effects, Metcalfe’s Law, etc. are very real and very powerful forces that can provide substantial benefits to consumers. It would be foolish to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

It seems to me that most people think about how to approach antitrust cases with the big tech companies from completely the wrong angle. You hear people talk about how Google has a virtual monopoly on search or how Facebook has a virtual monopoly on social media profiles, and the problem is presented as being one of lacking competition in those specific services. Let’s call this vertical monopolisation.

But the real problem is very different. The issue is that the company with the dominant search engine also has the dominant email service and the dominant streaming video platform and one of the dominant mobile operating systems and a huge share of the digital advertising market and so on. And furthermore, all those different services aggregate their data together and share them between one another so that they’re able to build profiles of end users that are so accurate that, in many cases, they can predict your future behaviour more accurately than you can. Let’s call this horizontal monopolisation.

In most cases, vertical monopolies in the tech space actually benefit consumers. And that means that, according to U.S. or E.U. antitrust law, they’re not actually a problem. Regulators should be more vigilant about placing limits on vertical acquisitions that quash startups that might disrupt the status quo of the company’s existing services, but this isn’t where the biggest issues lie. Where we really need to see regulators getting more assertive is blocking further horizontal expansion into yet more novel areas of people’s lives. And they likely need to go further and actually forcibly break apart different arms of these companies that have already been integrated horizontally. Outside the scope of antitrust, we also need to see regulations like GDPR continue to be refined. Personally, I’d like to see an end entirely to the ad targeting model of funding online services, but I don’t really see a path to making that happen in the near term.

Beyond regulatory issues, most people have effectively zero understanding of their own psychology. They don’t understand how much they’re impacted by cognitive effects like decision fatigue, the unfortunately-named analysis paralysis, etc. They radically overestimate their free will and have no appreciation for how much their decisions are subject to cognitive biases and outside influences. As a result, people use technology carelessly and without regard to the ways in which it affects them.

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I agree.
Committing to something that at first seems to require more effort managing your daily routines is a hard sell. It’s like working longer hours for less pay.
“Isn’t that why we invented tech in the first place, to get time off from boring chores to do what we really want?”
Oh the irony.

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Yes! My take:

  1. Don’t automate bad processes.
  2. Compared to manual processes, automated processes should be:
    • Faster;
    • Simpler to learn to follow;
    • As accurate or more accurate;
    • As non-invasive to one’s privacy or nearly so.
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Offline life is not gone, but it is more difficult for most people to achieve. You need to seriously consider what is important to you. Do you want to have privacy, peace, and presence in the current moment, or do you want to have all of the convenience of “smart” technologies? Do you want to be surveilled? Do you want to be tracked? The truth is that when you choose to exit the panopticon, you make a choice about a way of life. You can live a life of less tech, but this is a lifestyle choice. It isn’t merely a technological choice. This is similar to the Amish, but the line is being drawn in a different place. To me, there are spiritual reasons for my choice (tech is made to be addictive and I practice not use intoxicants), mental health reasons for my choice, privacy concerns for my choice, etc. I want my choices to be deliberate and not due to habit or addiction.

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@kirkmahoneyphd: I’ll use Gumroad to publish my future books and I’ll embed them on my website. It doesn’t have the same “power” as the big techs but allows me somehow to have more freedom and control of my work.

Thanks for the reminder about Gumroad!

I like Gumroad, but I don’t want to collect sales tax here in the USA. I have been down that road (I formerly had a sales-tax permit), and I no longer want to travel that road.

So, I asked Gumroad whether I could BLOCK sales to people in my own state (my “nexus”). This would allow me to sell in 49 states without the obligation of collecting sales tax.

Unfortunately, Gumroad told me that, YES, they liked my idea but that, NO, they had not implemented it.

If Gumroad ever lets vendors turn off sales to a particular state, then I will look into Gumroad again.

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Exactly this :point_up:

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@kirkmahoneyphd: I didn’t know about all the tax issues in US. I’m in Europe and they have a simple payment through PayPal. So, it seems less complex in my situation.

I hope they hear and apply your request. :slight_smile:

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We have come to the point where finding a (new) car without Android in the dashboard is close to impossible. Cars have become smartphone on wheels with all the free, privacy invading tracking software included with the legislative push of mandating compulsory ECall tracking systems. As with the Corona passport, these things get introduced as optional and “for your safety,” before quickly becoming compulsory, permanent and above all Orwellian.

Ever wondered why there is a worldwide chip shortage in the car manufacturing industry? This is why.

Soon you will not be allowed to drive an old car without a tracking system, as carbon taxing and road toll will be counted by the distance travelled and the time of the day.

The only way to escape this will be by disabling the GPS and mobile antennas, often hidden in the ever bigger getting block sticking to the wind shield behind the rear viewing mirror.

A Dutch BNR reporter also wondered recently: What if you do not sign for agreement that your car manufacturer will be constantly “monitoring” your car, even sending it firmware updates over the air? Will they still be able to sell you a car without agreeing to this “privacy policy?”

{Two-factor authorisation](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-factor_authenticatio) is another such thing, where under the excuse of “safety” big-tech tries to get your mobile phone number for further corporate spying and surveillance.

Finally, a large bank and insurance company is promoting here easy payment in car parkings by downloading there mobile phone app. Evidently, once the app installed, they will know exactly how fast you drive, how far, how often and where. Expect a rise in your insurance payment if you were that dumb to install the app.

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I think we’ll see the pendulum swing back the other way over the next few years.

In addition to the obvious privacy problems, this whole idea of connecting everything all the time was based on the understanding that wireless radiation is completely harmless. With no harm to human health, it’s not a problem to have phones transmit when they don’t need to and embed transmitters in car dashes and washing machines.

But if our society decides that there is an impact on human health, suddenly there will need to be user consent. And that will start to make it harder to connect things that don’t really need to be connected.

The first crack in the big tech dam has already happened. The FCC has lost a lawsuit and has now been asked (forced) to consider the current science to set safety limits.

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I don’t think it will be this way forever. Tech progress isn’t linear, and human behavior doesn’t move in a straight line either - cultural values, needs, wants, they all change. I know several younger people in their early 20’s who’ve abandoned their smartphones because they’ve felt the way their brains have changed to accommodate them and they don’t like it.

And this is all besides the fact that material prosperity is flatlined, or trending downward. As resources become harder and more expensive to mine and process, inane luxuries like smartphones and IoT devices will become harder and harder to get into people’s hands. The masses will just not be able to afford them. So that future scenario where auto and insurance companies are spying on everything you do and say - sure, but that assumes a future of cheap fossil fuels, EVs that the working class can afford, well-maintained road infrastructure that incentivizes driving over other options, and a near complete lack of a used car market.

(For instance, my daily driver is 26 years old, and considered by some to be a classic car. I have paid and will continue to pay for its upkeep, as well as learning to do a lot of work myself - including things that people who have only owned newer cars can’t even begin to fathom would need maintenance and replacement - and I do it for the sheer pleasure I get from owning and driving it. There is a not insignificant number of people out there like me, and I would sooner take the bus than buy a Tesla.)

This all also presupposes a best-case-scenario for the world economy and western democratic nations - which, in reality, are in a quite precarious place. Our not-too-distant future will probably be offline, and not because we as a people chose it.

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