Growing up in a rural community, one year I remember enduring an excessive number of power outages. There were several times when, although fully aware of the outage, I still flipped the light switch out of habit. Or I’d say “The power’s out so I can’t use the stove. I’ll just make toast instead,” only to slap my forehead when it hit me that of course the toaster, too, is powered by electricity.
That’s how dependent we were, and still are, on electricity. Of course, there were no smartphones back then; instead, my family bought our first home computer. The new PC filled two functions for me: It allowed me to correct typos without using white-out, and it provided me a diversion in Minesweeper.
Later, that computer got an internet connection. The hissing and squealing of the dialup modem was our cue we were heading up the onramp to the “information superhighway.” My family and I had no idea we would, in time, become so dependent on computers that they would enable much of our daily lives. I didn’t imagine a computer would soon shrink to fit in my pocket. We never predicted that being without connectivity would eventually hamstring us in much the same way as a power outage.
But that’s what it’s come down to. And the complexity of modern life is even more evident when we realize that living our connected life isn’t just about having a device with a broadband connection or data plan; for most of us, it’s also synonymous with depending on – and sharing our data with – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon, also collectively known as the Big Five.
As awareness increases of the amount of data these companies have about us and the influence they have over our lives, some have begun to buck the trend and try to quit. As journalist Kashmir Hill noted after her experiment in dropping all five companies’ products and services:
“These companies are unavoidable because they control internet infrastructure, online commerce, and information flows. Many of them specialize in tracking you around the web, whether you use their products or not. These companies started out selling books, offering search results, or showcasing college hotties, but they have expanded enormously and now touch almost every online interaction.”
We asked FREEDOME‘s Twitter followers in an unofficial poll which of these companies would be hardest to quit, and while we didn’t include Amazon (due to Twitter polls’ limitations), the results favored Google. No wonder – it’s everything from search engine to email, the Chrome browser, the operating system for Android owners, maps for getting around, and YouTube, to name a few. Facebook received the fewest votes.
Which one would be the hardest for you to quit? #privacy
— F-Secure FREEDOME VPN (@FreedomeVPN) December 17, 2018
Journalist Daniel Oberhaus also embarked on a digital diet from the five companies. “It is definitely possible to use open source replacements for pretty much every major service offered by the Big Five,” he wrote in an article detailing his experience and his tips for alternatives. “The important thing is to realize that none of these services are necessary. We may have come to develop a deep reliance on them, but that’s not the same thing.”
Like habitually flipping the light switch during a power outage, quitting the Big Five would certainly take time to get used to. How about you, do you think you could quit the Big Five?