Our constant companions: tech companies

Published 9:00 am Monday, February 18, 2019

One of the big questions of speculative science-fiction has always been about technology. What will it become in the future? How dependent on it will our society become? How will it affect us? These questions occasionally cross my mind because I’ve been a lover of science fiction basically my entire life.

But earlier this week, I really started focusing on the technology topic again after reading an interesting series of articles from gizmodo.com. Reporter Kashmir Hill wrote a six-part series documenting her attempt to remove the “big five” tech companies from her life. For one week each, she cut out Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. For the sixth week, she cut out all five at the same time.

You can probably guess what the results were. It’s almost impossible to cut ourselves off from the reach of these five companies for an extended period of time, as many are lurking on the internet and in physical technology in ways we likely aren’t even aware of. Hill talked about how inconvenient a lot of things in her everyday life became, but also how it was nice at times to leave the addiction of technology behind for a bit.

My initial reaction as I was reading the article, admittedly, was to scoff at Hill’s dependence on technology for just about everything. She had an Amazon Alexa and an Apple iPhone and an active Instagram account. These are all things I myself don’t have, and I get through the day just fine without them.

She also had to cut down on online shopping during her Amazon free week, an idea which was baffling to me because I myself rarely purchase things online. What could you possibly need to buy all the time??

Admittedly, I also quietly scoffed about Hill’s inability to use things like Uber and Lyft (because they utilize Google Maps) because, well, we don’t have that option here locally.

Ah, the wonders of city life, I thought to myself. The wonders of having an actual wi-fi connection to stream music on an Amazon Alexa without having to worry if you’ll run out of data. The wonders of your city being so vast and crowded that you need to use Google Maps to find the nearest Target store.

But as I continued reading and put my skepticism aside, I could admit that I wouldn’t be able to cut out all five of the tech companies either. My reliance is much, much lower, but it isn’t zero. Even if I turn my nose up at all Apple products, I still use Microsoft and Google in different capacities basically every day, and I still have a Facebook account even if I ignore it 99 percent of the time.

And apparently, we’re all much more reliant on Amazon than simply for online shopping. According to Hill’s article, most of Amazon’s profits come from websites hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). And that’s a lot of websites! Even Gizmodo, the website I read all this on, utilizes AWS. We’re probably often interacting with Amazon even if we don’t know it.

That was actually the most interesting part of the series. The five tech giants are very prevalent in our lives but often in different ways. We use Facebook to connect to friends, we use Google and Amazon for a lot of our internet experience, we use Google or Apple to communicate by phone, we use Microsoft for a lot of software. (Noted in the article, even if you’re a heavy Apple user like Hill, many of the businesses you frequent are probably powered by Microsoft computer systems). The five of them are everywhere, quietly monopolizing the tech markets in all aspects.

Ultimately, I came away from the articles thinking I should definitely try to cut back a little on my technology use. But could I cut the “big five” out completely? Definitely not. They are, unfortunately, our constant companions these days. Maybe what we have to do is focus on moderation and also try to diversify our technology.

It’s something to speculate about anyway, just like science fiction has been doing for decades. Try reading Hill’s series yourself. What do you think?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.