On becoming a digital hermit
Posted on 21st February 2019
Now like most young people of my age, I do live a fair bit of my life online, with social media to the fore. Then I came across a fascinating article just the other day in the Guardian online. Essentially, it was a report on this piece of research, published on Gizmodo, earlier in February this year. And what it shows is just how difficult it is to live your life without the online giants who dominate so much of our world.
More specifically, a lady called Kashmir Hill, working in conjunction with a technologist called Dhruv Mehrotra, blocked Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Apple for six weeks. Druv Mehrotra designed a special network tool that prevented Kashmir’s devices from communicating with these tech giants’ servers, meaning that ads and analytics from Google wouldn’t work, Facebook couldn’t track her across the internet, and websites hosted by Amazon Web Services, or AWS, hypothetically wouldn’t load.
She blocked one of each of these companies for a week, then, for the final week, blocked the whole lot.
Kashmir described the six-week period as “cold turkey.” Amongst the problems were, “Background noise in general disappears this week because YouTube, Apple Music, and our Echo are all banned—as are Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu, because they rely on AWS and the Google Cloud to get their content to users.”
She also discovered (as many people don’t’ realise) that Amazon’s most profitable business isn’t retail; it’s web hosting. Countless apps and websites rely on the digital infrastructure provided by them and none of them worked for Kashmir while she was “switched off”. Moreover, it’s not just Amazon: it turns out that Amazon owns 23.22m domains, Microsoft has 21.57m, Apple 16.78m and Google 8.72m. Facebook is a lightweight in this respect, with only 122,880.
Of course, what all this means is that almost every interaction you are likely to have with the internet will at some stage touch one or more of these domains, so if you’ve blocked yourself then your online world comes to a bit of a standstill. In amongst all the current (justified in many respects) furore about the tech giants, few people seem to be aware of just how much they dominate our lives and how difficult it is to escape from this domination. Unless you become a digital hermit of course, but speaking personally, I don’t see how I could become disengaged. Whether this almost total dominance by the big tech players is a good or a bad thing I’ll leave you to judge. While a lot of people think they could live without them it’s clearly not as simple as it seems…
Michael Phair, Be-IT
Posted in News, Opinion
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