The privilege of giving up technology

I deleted my Facebook and Google accounts a few months ago, having relied on the two companies for over a decade. Once I had freed myself from the two tech giants, I realised it in fact was a luxury for me to be able to disconnect from them. A luxury that not everyone can afford.

When I deleted my accounts, I moved or deleted ten years of personal emails, web browsing history, and photos from the most intimate moments of my life. My digital life had been in the care of companies rarely out of the spotlight for their detrimental impact on issues ranging from privacy, journalism, and elections to the silencing of the most vulnerable groups in the world’s conflict areas.

With even the creators of Facebook and Google disconnecting, citing a fear of “smartphone dystopia”, I decided it was time I too weaned myself off the constant need to check my newsfeed. Time to make sure that my data was at least partly mine to control.

Disconnecting from technology is nothing new. In recent years, unplugging and going offline has become a way of de-stressing and taking back control. People pay good money to go on “digital detoxing retreats” where they live just a few weeks without constant connectedness and the stress it induces.

But for a lot of people, disconnecting from services like Facebook and Google is not a realistic option. In countries where Facebook simply is the internet as it acts as the de facto online public sphere, like Myanmar, disconnecting would mean total isolation for most.

It gets even more complicated when social media companies also provide the access to the internet. Initiatives like Facebook’s Free Basics programme, for example, offers free access to a limited number of pre-selected websites. Although promoted as a programme for social good and offered at no monetary charge, the social media company profits from the information it collects, like people’s phone numbers and the websites they visit.

I left Facebook and Google because I do not trust ad-driven businesses to watch out for my best interests; I trust them to watch out for their bottom line by turning a profit off of my personal data. I left them because I had the luxury of choosing not to be voluntarily tracked and have my data sold. Because I had the luxury of choosing relative privacy over the convenience their services provide.

But many people are not able to make that choice and as technology companies permeate more and more aspects of our lives, our dependency on them is only likely to grow. When that happens, privacy will only become more of a luxury.

Where technology was once only available to the privileged few, those with privilege are now the ones who are able to give it up.