Tuesday, January 12, 2016

If the service is free, you’re the product

I've been noticing a trend lately: the number of people who are getting sick and tired of technology.

Consider this article in the Washington Post in December entitled Techno-skeptics’ objection growing louder. Apparently the new "counterculture" movement involves tuning out, literally. The article profiled a woman named Astra Taylor who "objects to the planned obsolescence of today’s gadgetry, and to the way the big tech companies pressure customers to upgrade." She joins a growing group of "tech dissenters" who don't like what high technology is turning into: a surveillance state and government-corporate partnerships.

"Of the myriad critiques of the computer culture," notes the article, "one of the most common is that companies are getting rich off our personal data. Our thoughts, friendships and basic urges are processed by computer algorithms and sold to advertisers. The machines may soon know more about us than we know about ourselves. That information is valuable. A frequent gibe is that on Facebook, we’re not the customers, we’re the merchandise. Or to put it another way: If the service is free, you’re the product."

Of course I'm keenly aware that I, too, am caught up in this techno-world. And since Blogger (the platform which hosts Rural Revolution) is free, that makes me the product. Wheee.

"Our technology today is so new that we haven’t had time to understand how to use it wisely," notes the article. Young people are especially susceptible, and some Asian countries are offering de-tox centers for people who are so addicted to electronic devices that they forget how to live.

Of course, I resist in my own little way. My family chuckles at my refusal to learn how to text. (And seriously, I haven't the faintest idea how.) Smart phones leave me clueless.

True story: Last summer, before Older Daughter went to nanny school, we had to find her some specialized slacks as part of a casual "uniform" the school required. Since we were unable to find these slacks in thrift stores, we did an internet search (ack! technology!) and found they were available at Old Navy. There's an Old Navy store in Spokane, so off we went.

It was the first time we've bought clothes at a retail store (vs. a thrift store) in years. The sales personnel were charming and helpful. Older Daughter is very slim and didn't fit the regular sizes, so we ended up having to special order the slacks she needed.

To place the special order, right there by the dressing rooms the saleswoman whipped out her store-issued smart phone and began inputting the information. Then she handed me the phone and asked me to fill in our shipping address and contact info.

I stared helplessly at the device, absolutely clueless how to do it. "Oh for heaven's sake," said Older Daughter in mock exasperation. She took the phone and tapped in the necessary information.

When it came time to pre-pay for the slacks, I committed another unpardonable sin: I took out my wallet and handed the sales rep actual cash. (If you remember, we've transitioned, as much as possible, to an all-cash lifestyle.) The saleswoman was literally baffled for a few moments. "This will require a different type of transaction," she said, and led us to the cash register to complete the sale.

And this, my friends, is what my day-to-day resistance is like.

But I'm not alone. Here's a British fellow who now runs a Silicon Valley tech startup company who is entirely (shocking!) cellphone-free. He calls cell phones "digital jails." He says:
There are some practical issues of course. Without a phone, I can’t check things. People with phones seem to spend their life checking things: messages, email, the news, the weather, some random celebrity’s Instagram -- I don’t know what it is exactly, but you all seem to be checking things the whole time. And I can’t do that, obviously. Tragically. Somehow, though, I cope.

But just in terms of our basic humanity, I find the idea that we should all be connected and contactable all the time not just bizarre but menacing. We used to think of electronic tags as a way of restricting criminals’ liberty -- we can keep them out of jail but still keep track of them. It seems that now, everyone is acquiescent, through their phone, in electronically tagging themselves; incarcerating themselves in a digital jail where there is no such thing as true freedom or independence or solitude or privacy."
With regards to cash, my resistance may not last much longer since the world, apparently, is on the march toward a cashless society:
"Did you know that 95 percent of all retail sales in Sweden are cashless? And did you know that the government of Denmark has a stated goal of 'eradicating cash' by the year 2030? All over the world, we are seeing a relentless march toward a cashless society, and nowhere is this more true than in northern Europe. In Sweden, hundreds of bank branches no longer accept or dispense cash, and thousands of ATM machines have been permanently removed. At this point, bills and coins only account for just 2 percent of the Swedish economy, and many stores no longer take cash at all. The notion of a truly 'cashless society' was once considered to be science fiction, but now we are being told that it is 'inevitable,' and authorities insist that it will enable them to thwart criminals, terrorists, drug runners, money launderers and tax evaders. But what will we give up in the process?"
What we give up, of course, is privacy. Cashless transactions allow micro-monitoring of everyone, because we all leave little cyber-trails wherever we go. Doesn't this just strike everyone as plain spooky?

Along these lines, here's an opinion piece entitled The Internet of Things and malicious refrigerators. The author writes about gadgets like "smart" refrigerators which "will come complete with sensors, cameras, smart capabilities and a huge touch screen display. It also takes a picture of what’s inside your fridge every time you close the door -- meaning you’ll always be up to date on how much milk and bread you have left. ... You can remotely access the fridge’s cameras in real time from any location through your smartphone, and also use the Family Hub to order groceries online through the new 'Groceries by MasterCard' smart fridge app. The 21.5-inch, 1080p display can also display family pictures and messages -- bringing the age-old custom of magnetized photos into the future. And if the fridge didn’t do enough already -- it also comes equipped with technology to help track and monitor your family’s eating habits."

But at what price? The author continues: "Internet-enabled appliances, which run operating systems like Windows or Android, can be co-opted by hackers’ malicious code in the same way your computer or phone can be hijacked. Once taken over by the hacker software, the appliance is used to send spam or to mount denial-of-service attacks. A hacker who had co-opted multiple Internet-equipped refrigerators and garage door openers could use their combined power to inundate an Internet target with email or other malicious activity."

We're talking refrigerators, folks. Spooky.

Which is I find myself straining for glimpses of the inside of the Bennett family's house (particularly the kitchen) in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Here's a "behind the scenes" view (notice the fire extinguishers).

I think this kitchen is absolutely beautiful. Why? Because it has nothing modern. No fridge, no microwave, no range. It was probably awful to cook in; but it sure looked great, right?

The more high-tech the world becomes, the more low-tech my interest grows. What can I say. I'm a subversive rebel.


  1. It is exhausting just to think about. Constantly having to worry about what you say, do, even think now becomes a worry as to who may be listening or monitoring in order to 'catch' you. It certainly is a good way to make us slaves by our own hands.

  2. I've often seen myself as a potential neo-luddite. I've been familiar with the luddite term since high school, I identified with it early on. I say potential because I'm still plugged in. I have an iphone, computer, facebook and an uber-techie husband. But I see myself as a deer in the tech forest, creeping cautiously, ready to bolt at any moment. I've often seen technology as the tether, where we are on an intertube floating farther out to sea. That tether lets us go and do more, explore the sea, but you cut that and we are toast. That analogy works best for how we get our food. Technology has allowed us to advance beyond having to spend most of our time growing our own food, letting us specialize. But the more technology advances and the farther we get away from our own food production, the more we are in danger. When that tether to our food gets cut, we don't know how to provide the basics for our own survival.

    Redoubt Renee

  3. Luddite here. Great article. I have to wonder. Are objects are getting smarter or are people getting dumber? It’s obvious our government is behind producing both.

    Oops! There I go again being offensive, uneducated and anti-American. Sorry.
    Montana Guy

    1. Both. Objects are getting "smarter" and people are getting dumber. MUCH dumber! Oh, and we should never apologize for speaking the truth! -Fred in AZ

  4. While I am often an early adopter of new technology, I reserve the right to discard what isn't useful - usually about 90%. Most is garbage aimed at social media type nonsense, which I refuse to participate in.

    Being in my mid 50's, the worst thing a cashier can do is roll their eyes when I pull out money, because then I have to fumble around for coins so that I come up with the EXACT amount. Young people are generally horrified to find out how little I care about their opinion of me.

    1. 'Young people are generally horrified to find out how little I care about their opinion.'
      That made me laugh myself silly!!!
      I think I need a T-shirt with that on it!!

  5. Although I'm in my mid 50's, I'm usually an early adopter of technology. I generally discard about 909% of what I test as useless, but kids these days make the mistake of assuming I'm a Luddite. Not that there's anything wrong with being a Luddite....

    One of the biggest mistakes that a cashier can make with me is to somehow indicate displeasure when I pay cash. Then I have to fumble around in my coin pocket for a while and find the EXACT change. I'm constantly amused by young people when they discover how little their opinion of me matters.

    1. My granddaughter and I went out to a restaurant a few months ago. The bill came to $19.23. I gave the cashier a $20 bill and a quarter. She just looked at it. She called a second cashier over; then a third. I, of course, told her right away what change she owed me. An older woman behind me was chuckling! They finally figured it out!
      Mary Ellen in PA

    2. My God, that's sad. That's really, really sad. That cashier is the product of Pennsylvania's "rigorous" public school system.

      At the next parent orientation, aka parent pep rally, I might just ask the principal to define "rigorous."

      In defense of PA schools, though, I just tested my third grader. He had to write it out, but he came up with the correct answer.

      I realize I have a "defect" that allows me to do arithmetic in my head...

      ...but surely if she didn't learn monetary place values, someone at least taught her to use a CALCULATOR.

    3. Is it just me, or are the walls of this canyon getting closer together????

    4. I'm sure 'common core' will solve that problem.
      Nope... Couldn't even type that with a straight face!

    5. I teach some basic math-along with an Electrical engineer who is teaching the same class-and both of us have come to the same conclusion: Common core math simply teaches a student to complete a 3 step math problem in no fewer than 7 steps. Natokadn

    6. BEFORE Common Core, in 1999, we were eating breakfast in a fast food restaurant in Cody before driving into Yellowstone. Eldest teenage son returned to the counter to order more food and came back laughing. He had been unable to convince the cashier she had given him too much money back in change from his $5.00. Younger son then ordered more food with the same result. He was in third grade and tried to help her to no avail. Husband and I intervened, taking the receipts and change to the counter and asking for the manager.
      While the employee in questions defense was, "I'm no good at math", his wasn't any better when we followed up on that remark with why is she working the counter instead of making fries or cleaning toilets? He told us they start them at the counter. We wished him good luck with the owners response to handing out more money than what was handed to them, as we could not convince either that a mistake had been made.

  6. I lost my "old fashioned" flip phone two weeks ago. I kind of looked for it, but it hasn't turned up. My life is no different for its loss. If I never find it I'll be ok.

  7. I was in a Lowes and saw a washing machine had a monitor on the front. I'm not sure if the thing was a 'smart' washing maching, so that one could do laundry and watch TV, or if it was part of the advertising/marketing of that particular machine. I took note of it, but didn't look closer since I was there for something else & I thought it was crazy over the top techno-junk. I've been without TV for 8 months and limited internet. Intersting to catch up & see how mich has changed in a short time frame.

  8. In the last couple of months I have noticed that I am using my smart phone less than I used to; it has gone from being useful to a hindrance - and why should I use what isn't helping me?

  9. I just spent 15 min. trying to get a service call from Direct TV. I asked for a representative at the only phone number I could find and he was very nice but sent me back to ask for teck support. I tried that several times but the computer did not want to give up. I finally hit 0 about 5 or 6 times and got to another rep in the teck end. She wanted me to repeat steps that I had already tried but finally set up an appointment for between 12 and 4 tomorrow. I thought I was the customer not them but I have been wrong before!

  10. Okay, I have to be the dissenting voice here. I use a smartphone, but only the things I find useful and not time-wasting. Mostly, it's to communicate with family and friends. I don't like talking on the phone, but a quick text message suits me just fine. And, I use it as a device to read any book I want out of my large library of purchased and free texts.
    Technology is not inherently evil. But pressed too far, it can be dehumanizing. We just need to choose for ourselves which parts we want, and which we don't.

    1. It's not that it's inherently evil. It isn't, any more than a hammer is inherently evil just because you can use it to bash someone's head in (or a gun is inherently evil just because you can use it to rob, rape, and murder). The evil isn't in the tool. The tool is just a tool. The evil is in how that tool is used.

      I LOVE the Internet. Obviously. I'm a daily visitor to Rural Revolution (and a weekly visitor to a host of other blogs). I get news online, I pay bills online (at least, if I've forgotten them until very close to the due date I do), I track my kids' schoolwork online (and if I were to homeschool we'd probably get a second laptop). I have more "efriends" than people I talk to "IRL," at least in this yuppie wanna-be 'burb.

      The problem isn't that we have the tech. The problem is that we don't have laws, and haven't applied the Constitution, to stop the tech from being abused (where the evil comes in) for surveillance, exploitation, and control.

  11. If you get the chance, check out the BBC series called "Victorian Farm". You can find it on Youtube or order the DVD(s). You'll love it.

  12. In 3 years, 7 months, 8 days and a few hours I will retire. At that glorius moment I will never own a smart phone again. I may never even own a phone again.

  13. Since I teach in a college environment (including online courses -skill based I should add - I have to keep up with technology) I have recently been amazed. I got butcher chickens and a few laying hens last summer. I am stupid about these things, but have had very good success. The word has gotten out and I can't believe how many of my coworkers want to purchase eggs & "farm raised" chickens from me. Sad thing is, here in a rural area we get surveys: Do you raise and sell garden produce, if so how much and what is your income, how many chickens, pigs, cows, horses, turkeys etc, etc do you have and do you sell any at farmers markets and what do you make etc., etc. I don't dare sell a thing because then the government can't trace it back. I "gift" and gift alone. That way no one can (hopefully) sue me because someone has determined they were sickened by a food product that I sold them. What a sad place we have become......Natokadn. BTW I typed this on my phone and my eyes are getting old...sorry for any mistakes I have missed.

    1. very interesting. I've always wondered about the liability of selling food products produced on the homestead. It's kept me from seriously considering doing that.

  14. My wife and I are also "subversive rebels." We each have a cell phone. The phones are over 8 years old. The don't take pictures or videos. They don't have games within them to play. The original batteries still work and charge just fine! We use our phones mainly to communicate with each other when we're apart. My wife has to drive almost 25 miles to work in the middle of nowhere. If she should break down, she can call me. Sometimes when I'm shopping, I need to ask her a question when she's at home. The cell phones are very handy for that sort of thing. You will NEVER see either of us walking around like blind fools with our noses pressed to our cell phones or "smart phones"! --Fred in AZ

  15. On the subject of a 'cashless society', my thought is that the primary purpose of government's pushing it is to limit non-taxable exchanges like some fee for service transactions (I mow your yard or fix your car or paint your house, etc., you pay me in cash, I do not report it on my tax form, etc.) and to control us. An example of the latter would be buying groceries - once the government knows everything you buy it will not be long before they limit what we can buy - can't have too much cheese, milk, butter, red meat, etc. because (they say) it is bad for your health and since by this time all health care will be government controlled it is one of their ways of reducing costs.

    Many years ago a friend in Montreal gave me an example of this control but in a different way - she said that grocery stores charged a lower VAT (7%) if she bought a large container of yogurt than the regular VAT of 17% if she bought a smaller container. Yet another example of behavior modification through taxation.

    On the cell phones - I have an old flip phone that is almost always turned off. It is mostly for emergencies. I have a computer at home and at work, both with e-mail and Internet access. I do not need to carry 'access' with me everywhere I go (via a 'smart phone').

    I do not use Twitter, Facebook or any of those sites.

    I do have a high def telly but if/when it goes out I will look for a 'dumb' telly. Unfortunately, the 'dumb' telly is becoming more rare each day so I might have to buy one before my current one goes out!

    Enough for now but one last thing - a link!

    See this "Ordering pizza in the future" video on youtube:


    It is funny, sad, scary, etc. at the same time.

  16. Except for a small allowance, I've been cashless since 20 June 1983...that's the day I got married!

  17. My husband has some kind of smart phone - great for him as he uses for work as a school bus aide and needs the GPS feature, and a variety of other apps. It is the only cell phone we own. I DO NOT know how to answer it, use it or anything else connected to it and don't want to.

    Also, we had a recent yard sale and a customer wanted to charge something. She was astounded that we did not have the doohickey for a cell phone that would allow us to take charge cards!!

    Yes, obviously I use the internet and would have a hard time without it, but if I couldn't use it I would still be able to function. Actually, if I were allowed only one electronic device it would have to be my computer. I can read, watch, contact & even see people, check for information,bank, and shop. Downside is I have to have a credit card. The reason: I'm older, don't drive and have no public transportation and am not really within walking distance, about 2.5 miles each way, of any shopping.

  18. I refer to my cell phone as "my leash". I don't carry it because if I need it I can't find it or else it needs to be charged. Why do I still pay the monthly fee? I'm going to drop it. Julia

  19. I have a flip phone. At my age ,71,I need some thing to get 911. Hard to find public phones

    1. we have them for 911 and some intrafamily communication.
      got first one for daughter when she went to college.

  20. My daughter has a cell phone and I want her to
    turn off her electrone divice when she comes home. I cannot beleive how often she is on it.
    we still have to pay cash and thank God I do not
    like to shop

  21. Hubby called me a relic the other day. Need I say more!

  22. I have a flip top-but don't have a clue how to text. I tell my adult children, they have to call their mother, so I can hear their voices:)Love that P&P kitchen-we live in a log cabin down in the woods, and heat with wood,but I do have a stove:)

  23. I have a *Trac Fone* from the dollar store. I have to buy minutes for it (runs me about 20 bucks a month). I can text on it, but texting doesn't use up the talking minutes, so I text. I usually leave it at home, as I refer to it as *My Electronic Leash*.

  24. This cashless thing might work in other countries but I can't see it working here. I live in Amish country and they don't use anything but cash. On another note, I ordered a propane cook stove from Sears. I wasn't on the grid at the time so needed it to be battery lit. It had no gadgets, wasn't anything special really and it took them 3 months to get it in. Just because it was a special order...so sad.