They all all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all said I never would be happy
If I deleted my Apple, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Dropbox accccooooouuunts.
But ho, ho, ho!
Who’s got the last laugh now?
It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote here on Pando about my increasing exasperation with Silicon Valley and my decision to step out of the fray.
For the past couple of weeks, as I’ve reached these entirely new levels of despair at the state of the tech industry, Sarah’s words have haunted me. Unlike back in 2011, the problem today isn’t limited to a single company but to an entire ecosystem. It’s represented not just by assholes like Travis Kalanick but also by “good guys” like Jack Dorsey who allow Donald Trump to use their platforms as a literal bully pulpit. In the middle are an awful lot of people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who save the planet and support journalism in the morning and then gladhand Donald Trump in the afternoon.
Since then, my cynicism has been more than vindicated — most recently by Elon Musk’s thank you gift from Trump but also by Twitter’s continual enabling of President Trump and Arianna Huffington’s revolting display of fiduciary coolgirlism at Uber.
It’s unsurprising then that my inbox has been flooded with notes from Pando readers who share my despair, and my concern at how much worse things are going to get in the next five years.
And yet, the vast majority of those notes come with a caveat: Of course I could never delete all my accounts. I couldn’t survive without Amazon/Apple/Twitter/whatever.
Most people have a favorite service they couldn’t live without. For me that service was Amazon. I could easily do without the cesspool that Twitter has become, or with storing my files on USB drives instead of in the cloud. But it was inconceivable to me that I’d be able to get through even a day let alone a week without crawling back to free same day delivery of books and household stuff. It’s just too easy, and too cheap.
It wasn’t until I actually forced myself to try that I made a stunning discovery: Book stores still exist, and are frequently cheaper than Amazon, especially for used books. And if they don’t have the book you want, there are actually companies that will sell you things on the Internet but aren’t Amazon.
Man, I can’t wait til I discover libraries. Mind. Will. Be. Blown.
I’m being comically ironic, of course. Partly because I’m naturally hilarious but also because it’s shocking how quickly we’ve all come to accept that Amazon Prime is the only way to buy things. That the only way to stay au courant with the news is to mash the refresh button on Twitter rather than (say) turn on the television or – heaven forbid – read a newspaper. That the cloud is worth the risk no matter how many times it’s shown to be hopelessly insecure. That any of this bullshit actually makes us happier or more efficient.
Never mind that we’ve all made the moral calculation that the perceived benefits of Facebook or Google outweigh the fact that the former continues to pander to the Trump administration (including by having one of Trump’s biggest supporters on their board) while the latter steadily increases its harvesting of our data and communications in order to better serve ads alongside hate speech.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve written a few dozen variations of this next paragraph in reply to all those “I couldn’t do it myself” emails…
If I’ve realized anything significant in the past two weeks of disconnectedness it’s this: Breaking free of Silicon Valley’s stranglehold on our data and attention really isn’t so hard. The bulk of the Valley’s toys are just that — toys — and the rest are easily replaceable with old-fashioned or independent alternatives.
I mean it, too. For example, there was literally no reason I was paying Microsoft $10 a month for my Office subscription – which forces me to have a cloud account and all that other nonsense — when Open Office is just as good, and free. There was no reason other than laziness that I was giving Amazon hundreds of dollars a month rather than getting some exercise by wandering to any number of local stores (I accept that may not apply to you if you live in a lighthouse.) There has been no entertainment I haven’t been able to obtain without resorting to iTunes. My email works just as well outside of Gmail as it did inside.
Meantime, by forcing myself to seek out alternatives to Big Silicon Valley, I’ve discovered or rediscovered the joys of things like Murphie and Thriftbooks or even of ordering things directly from the people who make them. Fun fact: Companies really like it when you do that, and they’ll often give you discounts to use on future direct orders. Silly stuff too, like picking up the phone to make a restaurant reservation rather than navigating OpenTable (the phone call was quicker. Who knew?)
I mention all of this not because I think you should follow my lead and delete all your accounts. You do you, as the kids say. I mention it because as things get worse in Silicon Valley — and, given what we’re already seeing happen to Uber’s sexism ‘investigation’, they surely will — it’s important to know that there is an escape hatch. That you don’t have to support these companies, or these products. That, in fact, it’s very easy not to.
Just something to think about. And while you do, here’s a story from Fortune about how the CIA can intercept your new iPhone and install surveillance malware to watch you as you sleep.
Oh, and as I was about to hit publish on this acticle, the Senate voted to repeal the law banning ISPs from selling your browsing history without your permission.