Privacy and the amount of information companies such as Facebook and Google have on their users has been brought to the forefront with the Cambridge Analytica debacle. This has been a catalyst for me to reevaluate how I use the internet and where I want to go from here.
Frankly, I’m bored with the internet. That sounds like such a ridiculous thing to say as the internet is absolutely amazing. The problem is I’ve fallen into a rut where I hit the same websites everyday. I briefly check Facebook but rarely post anymore; I check the BBC news, Reddit, and maybe Nexdoor; although I’m quickly learning I really don’t want to know so much about my complaining neighbors. I’m starting to learn that I really don’t *enjoy* using visiting these websites. I don’t enjoy the internet like I did when it first hit the mainstream and just randomly searching for websites.
It got me thinking about exactly why I don’t enjoy it anymore. The first is perhaps the newness has finally worn off. The next three reasons are the big ones though and those are: the monetization of websites, personal data collection and the narcissistic nature of social media. Starting with the monetization there are ads everywhere, it is all clickbait (The internet is shocked at *fill in the blank*) It is all just a bunch of crap and it is difficult to find a refuge where some website is not trying to make money off of you in one form or another.
I’ll leave personal data collection for last and go straight to social media. I used to absolutely love it, reconnecting with old friends and seeing what their lives are like. What I quickly realized however is that after a brief euphoria those old connections have faded and the catchup letters I was expecting never happened. The connection with them on social media is a shadow of the face to face interactions I used to have and “likes” just don’t do it for me. I’ve seen a million selfies of my friends and their kids but without the face to face bonding the friendship continues to fade away. I’ve had my fill of Facebook, Instagram and so on.
Now on to personal data collection. I was absolutely shocked to learn just how much Google knows about you. Checking out myactivity.google.com it appears that my android is recording everything I say and do. Now I knew it did collect information but I didn’t realize the extent of this. Although I have absolutely nothing to hide (hell I write an online journal of my entire life) this just makes me feel a little uneasy. And so I’ve installed the Duck Duck Go extension for Chrome as well as put it on my cell phone. However, that is only for searching, Google is still collecting every website I visit, where I’ve been, what I say and this is all downright creepy. So as I write this post I’m charging up my old Nokia RAZR cell phone and might try an experiment.
This experiment is to see if I could live without a smartphone and thus Google tracking everything I do. I really had to think about all the apps I use because I’ve become so reliant on them that I would certainly miss many of them. The first and foremost is Google Maps. It is very easy to use and lets me know the traffic conditions. However, my old NAVI also can give me directions and the newer models would let me know about the traffic. The second item is the camera because I do like taking pictures of my kids. However, my wife has a shiny new iPhone X and takes plenty of pictures I could copy. The third is text messaging and I cannot remember if my Nokia has this functionality but I’ll soon find out.
I think it would be very interesting to try disconnecting for a month or so. I believe it would increase my happiness, let me focus more on life and all of its small joys that can go unnoticed when one always has their face in a screen. I’d be able to read more books instead of seeing what is going on daily on the internet with Reddit.
For the news I have started reading The Columbus Dispatch on the iPad in the mornings and for me that is enough news for the day, especially since there doesn’t seem to be anything good in the news these days.
The internet in its current form makes me think of what Agent Smith said to Morpheus in the move The Matrix:
Can you hear me, Morpheus? I’m going to be honest with you. I hate this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it. I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink. And every time I do I feel I have somehow been infected by it. It’s repulsive, isn’t it? I must get out of here. I must get free and in this mind is the key, my key. Once Zion is destroyed there is no need for me to be here, don’t you understand? I need the codes. I have to get inside Zion, and you have to tell me how. You’re going to tell me or you’re going to die.
Just as Agent Smith wants to be free of The Matrix I feel as though I want to be free of all the data collection, the tracking, the advertisements, the hacking of my thoughts.
I say hacking because isn’t that what Fox News and CNN really do? They post sensational articles and in a sense “hack” the way people think towards one end or another. We are all being hacked by the internet and this was apparent in a recent post of someone I knew very well in my past. She posted a pro-gun video and she is someone who wouldn’t have cared one way or another about guns in the past without some website, some propaganda telling her what to think. This ‘hacking’ has actually changed the course of American history with all the talk of Russian “fake news.” People now fall into one of two camps and it is the internet telling them how to think. The majority rely on quips from news sites, from memes and from 3 minute reports telling them to be shocked and angry about something.
For me personally I cannot listen to any of this noise. The only time I’ll listen is if I’m learning and for that they’d have to be readers and be reading good, in-depth articles. Foreign Affairs, Stratfor, The Economist, The New Yorker, or any of the long, deep dives which many upstanding magazines offer but must be paid for and even more importantly read. Only the most intelligent people will sit and read through an article that takes at least half an hour to 45 minutes to read. Those offer real insights unlike the junk on the news or social media.
Anyway, like Agent Smith says he “hates this place,” I too find myself hating the current form of the internet. I long for the internet in its primitive form, full of random websites where you could actually Google something and get interesting results. Now all you get are the websites that will track you and if not try to sell you something directly want to sell your information to someone else.
And so, as my Nokia charges I think I’ll try to break free, to experience life without all of this noise of the internet. I’ll try to break free from it all, except of course the golden nuggets of the internet such as Wikipedia, sites that don’t make the first page of a Google search. We’ll see how this goes, it might be difficult.