Some thoughts on our internet overlords

I love the internet. I love that one can search and find the world’s knowledge instanteously. I love that people can stay in touch with each other no matter where they are. I love how the internet has democratized knowledge, communication, and innovation. And at the end of the day, I love how fucking convenient the internet is.

Until today.

My e-mail provider (Hotmail, which is provided by Microsoft) has decided that, and I quote:  “Your account has been closed”

For some reason, they think I violated their “Terms of Use.” As such, I cannot access any part of my e-mail: no inbox, no contacts, no messages. Furthermore, there is no possible way for me to talk to a real human being about this. I tried. All I got was the voice of a robotic woman telling me that because I was not using a paid service, I was not eligible for technical support. The best I could do was to fill out a few online forms like a pleading, mewing kitten.WHAT THE FUCK? In my small, evidently 20th-century mind, I would consider my e-mail messages and my contacts to be my property. For Hotmail to block me from my own content is like an envelope company saying that they own everything you put in their envelopes.  ARRG!!!

(This is where I get more philosophical. The tea I’m drinking is helping)

Besides being an enormous inconvenience, it’s made me realize how dependent we are on our internet overlords. My credit card statements, my personal correspondence, and even the comments that are submitted on this site arrive through my e-mail account. I probably have two dozen user accounts spread across the web that are tied to my e-mail address.

At the end of the day, what we’ve effectively done is trade an immense amount of control for convenience. We pretty much sign our life away for the convenience of little e-mail messages dropped lovingly into our inbox. We trade control (and ownership) of our own communication and information for the sake of a few less licked stamps and a few less trips to the post office.  A citizen without an e-mail address might as well have leprosy! And we’ve all gone along with it, placing immense amount of trust, private information, and data in the hands of huge corporations that have no real, social obligation to their users. Just look at Hotmail’s terms of use:

“We may change the service or delete features at any time for any reason…We may cancel or suspend your service and your access to the Windows Live ID network at any time without notice and for any reason…”

When you think about it, we are experts at trading control for convenience. We eat processed foods instead of growing our own. We use credit cards instead of practicing home economics. We have “Facebook friends” instead of real ones. In short, we’ve traded so much of what is good and valuable and right in the world for “convenience.”

Thus I am stuck here, horribly “inconvenienced.” And I’m starting to realize that maybe everything I’ve traded for the sake of convenience wasn’t such a good trade after all…

5 Comments

  • Kimberly

    April 20, 2011 at 8:44 pm Reply

    Google (Gmail) will treat you better, even though they are on their own way to taking over the “internets,” and I have been happy with a lot of the privacy and security and backup measures they have in place.

    About the trading control for convenience: I feel to some extent that I have MORE control because of the information that is at my fingertips about some things, in addition to it being convenient. I would never have been interested in any of the greenie-granola-y things we’re doing if I was just hearing about it from friends- I want and need to see the research and information myself (control!). I would have never gone to the library to read about soaking whole grains or making homemade vanilla or part-time EC or the “dirty dozen” for buying organic; but since I can find information easily (and in a pleasing manner to read, no less) online, I can decide what choices and changes I want to propose for our family, something that I wouldn’t have done out of ignorant convenience without our internet overlords 🙂

  • Ashlee

    April 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm Reply

    May I suggest you edit the language of this particular commentary?!? I’m glad you don’t talk the way you write. 🙂

    I find the internet wonderfully convenient. I rarely get anything other than junk e-mail. If I want to get in touch with someone, I usually do it via phone or facebook. However, I do get most of my recipes online and use the internet to find some great deals on items we need or want. I could live without it, but I’d rather not.

  • Kaylene

    April 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm Reply

    Hi Erik — if you get this message. . . sorry about your mega-hassles!! I’ve always wondered what would happen if we had an electrical blackout. I do all my online banking, pay all of my bills, do all my research (TONS), and keep in touch with dozens of people via the Internet. (I have to laugh when the secret password or credit card number that you type in shows as an asterisk or some other “blocking” type. If I can’t see it, does that mean the computer doesn’t know it either??) I’m with Kim in that I LOVE the access of information; I’ve often thought of the Internet as the Gutenberg Press of the modern era. It has profoundly changed our cultural landscape. Many of the traditional gatekeepers of information are falling by the wayside (e.g publishers — sigh). You are RIGHT, however, that we are freewheeling with all perceived notions of privacy!

    • Erik

      April 21, 2011 at 9:28 pm Reply

      Well, they reinstated my account and my rage has subsided. I thought everyone made some really good points in the comments. The internet is a wonderful tool that allows all of us to access the world’s collective knowledge instantaneously. I think my moral dilemma centers around the wider question of what we trade for the sake of convenience…

  • Todd Johnson

    April 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm Reply

    The internet is morally neutral. It doesn’t care. You are right with your ranting and raving. The internet overlords control too much! I fly one of the most computerized jets in the world. Everything I do as the captain is recorded, downloaded, and tracked by my company.

    We HAVE become dependent on the internet. My company will accept my schedule bid only through the internet.

    We can still retain some control. We can still make lefse, make homemade sausage, and make ice-cream (using a recipe written down from my grandmother) with ice we chopped from our own stream.

    We can play the Cabelas hunting game on the Wii console or we can chase each other through the house in a massive Nerf war. It still is our choice. I prefer reading books to my sweet grandsons over the internet/TV games. We decide!

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