From Gmail to Ask.fm to Twitter to Facebook: When tech treats us badly, why don't we just leave?

We're locked in an abusive relationship with technology. Plus: Why didn't Dead Prez make the First Lady's album cut? And, gentlemen, don't go to any stubble

Share
Related Topics

How many times does the internet have to tell us it doesn't love us, before we stop crawling back for more? Last week, in a legal submission to contest a class-action lawsuit, Google told Gmail users point-blank what it has long been gently hinting: "A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information they voluntarily turn over to third parties." As Dear John letters go, it was pretty blunt.

No one should be surprised that websites, search engines and internet service providers behave this way, yet continually, we are surprised. We were aghast when Instagram said they'd flog our photos, we were dismayed when Facebook said they would charge to send messages, and we were shocked and appalled when Twitter dragged its feet over installing a "report abuse" button.

Google, Twitter, Facebook and Ask.fm are all private companies which quite transparently prioritise profit over our feelings but, like naïve lovers in a doomed relationship, we hold on to the hope they will one day change.

Any romance that there used to be is now long gone. Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that regular use of Facebook predicts a decline in user well-being. It's only the latest in a series of studies linking new technologies to increased stress and unhappiness. In this week's most extreme example, the Gilbert family from Houston, Texas forswore wireless technology after their baby monitor began shouting abuse at their two-year-old daughter. The police guessed it had been hacked by malicious persons unknown, most likely based in Europe.

When technology treats us so badly, why don't we just leave? Why don't bullied teenagers stop using Ask.fm? Why don't spied-on Gmail users switch to a different mail provider? Ah, but if only it were that easy. Researchers estimate that between 5 and 10 per cent of internet users are actually addicted, with effects on the brain very similar to alcohol or drug addiction. The rest of us aren't free either. Whether we like it or not, internet access is increasingly a bar to even basic participation in modern life.

If you successfully give up crack cocaine, you can return to polite society, an outcast no more. If you successfully give up Facebook, however, you will be banished to the very fringes. It's the 21st-century equivalent of the city dweller who dreams of escaping the rat race on an uninhabited island in the Outer Hebrides: Possible – admirable, even – but not a realistic option for most people with social lives and the need to make a living.

There ought to be a way to avoid becoming an indentured slave to technology, without withdrawing from society altogether and perhaps there is, but those with a will to reform – the David Camerons, the mothers groups – lack the understanding. And those with the understanding – the darknet bandits, the Zuckerbergs – lack the will. If you had knowledge that conferred such untold and, as yet, largely untapped power, you'd be unlikely to want change either.

Michelle's vegetable rap

When I was at school, barely a week went by without some Michelle-Pfeiffer-in-Dangerous-Minds wannabe encouraging us to make up a rap. As I recall, these teacher-mandated ditties were mostly about the environment (this was in the Nineties, when we still believed Apocalypse could be averted), but we also did one about friendship and one about the Ancient Egyptians. So Michelle Obama will be in dubious company when she releases her educational hip hop CD Songs for a Healthier America later this year, with track titles including "Veggie Luv" and "U R What You Eat".

But before we roll our eyes and go back to carving initials into the desk lid, let's give Miss a chance. Not only has she managed to enlist the not-entirely-naff likes of Run DMC and Doug E Fresh as collaborators, but songs about healthy eating have a genuine pedigree in the genre. Dead Prez, best-known for "Hip Hop", have a song called "Be Healthy" (2000) which includes advice along the lines of "Lentil soup is mental fruit / And ginger root is good for the yout'". It also recommends daily intake of marijuana, however, which would explain why it didn't make the First Lady's album cut.

A-level photography

At exam time, photographers still struggle to find eye-catching alternatives to the media cliché of blonde of girls jumping for joy. Some suggestions:

1. Teachers in the staff room enjoying well-deserved sit down and a nice cup of tea, as reward for all their invigilating efforts.

2. The school caretaker silhouetted in an after-hours assembly hall, sweeping away discarded A-level envelopes while everyone else is living it up at the pub.

3. A student shrugging while clutching a fist of D-grades, indicating his acceptance that while academic achievement might be nice, it's only one narrow definition of success, after all.

Don't go to any stubble

In all this fawning over Jeremy Paxman's beard, does anyone spare a thought for the follically challenged? A male friend of mine who's currently doing some online dating informs me that "tall, dark and beardy" has replaced the traditional as a summary of single ladies' stated desires and anyone who doesn't meet up is cruelly overlooked.

If you can't grow the required full, luscious beard naturally, then help is at hand. According to the Institute of Trichologists, there's been a sixfold increase in the number of men opting for beard transplants. It's a gruesome-sounding procedure that involves harvesting hair from the back of the head before attaching it to the face. Why do they bother? Because they're worth it, of course.

As a member of the gender traditionally victimised by impossibly high beauty standards, it behoves me to pass on to men the wisdom that every woman arrives at sooner or later: life's far too short for that nonsense.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
Public concerns over a third Heathrow runway appear to be secondary to the needs of businesses  

Business people are the new trade unions - unelected but continually to be appeased in case they turn nasty

DJ Taylor
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'