Who is using whom

The French philosopher, Montaigne, was perceptive enough to ask whether he is his cat’s pet.

In the 21st century, we use several internet services. I use Gmail to manage my email, Evernote for journaling and WordPress to write this blog. With every new version, each of these services have undergone several changes – they bear little resemblance to the product I once signed up for

Each change in these services forces me to adapt my own behaviour as a customer. If Gmail decides to divert my blogposts to the ‘Promotions’ folders of people who have signed up to read my blog, I have no way of changing that. If WordPress changes its layout to include ‘blocks’ which get in the way of my writing, I cannot help it. If Evernote decides to be cloud only and abolishes local notebooks, I have to suck it up. Even as these services change in undesirable ways, I find myself shackled to using them, since I don’t host my own blog or email server.

Every for-profit internet company wants its users to use the product in ways that would maximise its own profit. Every new release and feature is an additional nudge (or obstacle) to modify their users’ behaviour. The more locked-in their users are, the bigger and more undesirable the changes they are forced to accept.

Taking a leaf out of Montaigne’s book, it helps to ask whether we the users of internet companies or whether the companies use us instead. The only way out is to use the internet, and not its companies.

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