November 23, 2020

Another friend has completely deleted her Facebook account, erasing 12 odd years of accumulated memories, photos, thoughts, comments, rants and so on. We nodded emphatically along with her, because whilst others may wonder if she had suffered some life-changing trauma, which drove her to eradicate precious memories, we agree that we cannot be bound to maintaining an online existence on social media. There is increasing disillusionment and fatigue as digital hostages to all these apps and platforms that have overrun our lives.

It is to our joy that Sarpino’s Pizza sprung up in a nondescript corner of our neighbourhood shopping centre, complete with a human hotline where we can call ahead to order a pizza with no onions and extra olives before walking over to pick up it without the extra plastic bags or sauce packs and carbon footprint of delivery. How many times have we closed the Deliveroo app in disgust because we cannot change the choice of noodle? No, we will not be trained to eat in a standard way.

Yet, how do we describe this wondrous new age created by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has massively accelerated gains in innovation and productivity with the mass adoption of technology that would have taken years to push through society?

Source: McKinsey

We have reached peak tech exhaustion.

Life has become increasingly unnerving for us as we freak out whenever we enter the car for the phone to flash us the fastest way home, anticipating our next move with uncanny predictability. And we are also well-trained these days to take our phone everywhere we go, like a microchip or it would be near impossible to enter any building or pay for things at places that do not accept cash.

We cannot log in to our bank accounts now without an app and Apple and PayPal keep hounding us to set up our payment instructions even as our phone is perpetually inundated with SMSes, WhatsApp messages and phone calls from marketing firms, not to mention those automated DHL calls in Mandarin from a number we don’t recognise. We get 50 emails a day from bots trying to hack our old blog and endless scam emails. We have too many passwords to manage and cannot log in when we forget to bring our password notebook out. When will this agonising mental debilitation stop?

How insincere are those shopping platforms that require you to constantly log in to collect stamps and spin the wheel just to get a discount voucher or code? They are training you like a monkey to check your email notifications for promos and special timed sales like clockwork. If Lazada or Qoo10 really wanted to give you that voucher, should it be so hard? Or could it be some diabolical game with the intent to subjugate and “zombify” the consumer into consumption?

When we received the midnight message from a friend begging for a vote on Qoo10 so she can get some dumb stamps for a bigger discount on her purchase, it was probably the last straw and that is why we tend to agree that “delete Facebook” is a good idea.

Try googling for LED lighting and you will get LED adverts on your phone forever till you google something else! That is how bad it is and it’s no point clearing the cache because it could be Apple tracking you just like they are in Europe with their mobile tracking tool for advertisers which they have just been found to be doing.

Digital slaves we will be no more, making us Luddites and unashamed that we have not updated our LinkedIn profiles in over 8 years and only check Facebook about once a fortnight. Sneered upon by friends who have adopted facial recognition for their iPhones and Alexa for their homes, we live in fear for ourselves and them too, each time we get a message from yet another friend telling us their accounts or phones have been hacked again. How do we trust anyone these days?

Why worry about being scammed too?

We had our experience with that during the height of the lockdown when the face masks we ordered on Lazada did not turn up and ended up receiving a threat from the local seller who not so subtly hinted to us that they had our address, email and mobile details, kindly provided by the platform, if we dared to make any trouble for them.

Scams are too commonplace these days for the Police department to be sending out regular reminders, which makes it a no-brainer decision to opt out. 

Source: SPF

Luddite is defined by the dictionary as a derogatory adjective or noun, associated with people or a person opposed to new technology or ways of working. Yet, we cannot dismiss the benefits we have come to appreciate from our little digital cleanup exercise.

1. Cost savings: not having accounts and apps is a good thing because it reduces the need to spend and makes you think twice before buying anything. Besides, plenty of friends have accounts you can ask for help for that book, Profits and Prejudice: The Luddites of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by UBS’s Paul Donovan.

2. Buying local: giving up on online shopping allows us to give the neighbourhood shops a chance instead of feeling bad the next time another one closes down.

3. Less risk of being hacked or having your details compromised because Redmart and Eatigo only managed to inform customers 18 months later.

4. Protection against the plethora of fake news and propaganda on Facebook.

5. Improves mental and emotional well-being: shielded from the stresses of keeping up social media presence and baiting pressures of getting the best deals, discount codes and sales from online platforms.

The idea is not to be anti-tech, pardon the hypocrisy, given the game plan was to get into that Palantir stock too, which has more than doubled since its IPO in September and missing the brief pullback to US$8.90 when we blinked even if we disagreed with the ethics of the big data business and harbour the same antitrust concerns of George Soros who recently declared he was selling out because he “did not approve” of its business practices (which did not stop him from making huge profits). We will not mention Sony’s PS5 launch along with other tech-related trades.

Source: Google

To clarify, we are not Luddites when it comes to profits just as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made their fortunes from tech but raised their kids tech-free, and we know PE and VC chaps who are pretty ignoramus when it comes to using apps in their daily lives.

The digital cleanup has left us with the indispensable apps or bare necessities such as Twitter and WhatsApp, but we will not be deleting Facebook or Foodpanda or Lazada because we never know when we may need them. There is a risk of leaving our digital footprint out there, which is not so different from leaving our names, ICs and mobile numbers on scraps of paper at the next condo or clinic we visit. Call us discerning digital luddites, if you wish.

Yes, we continue to feel uneasy with that new Merc and the “Hey Mercedes” A.I. that is listening in on us and mapping our drive, waiting to spring into action with “How may I help you?” if you mumble anything remotely discernible to “Mercedes,” infuriating you with its sometimes “unintelligent” sensors and deafening warnings just because you are too close to a plastic bollard. 

We will be forced to download the parking app soon because it is getting impossible to buy carpark coupons, so being a digital minimalist without compromising our comfort may be the best way forward. 

Yet we cannot help but feel relieved for the friend who quit Facebook for good and erased the rest of her digital existence because she is dear to us. We would not go so far as to persuade the dozens of strangers on their quest to get the best deals on Shopee or out for their 15 seconds on fame on Instagram and such to stop. It is worth the extra hours for them, but not for us because their time or expenditure works out to be investment returns for shareholders.

Meanwhile, we are just glad to have Sarpino’s in the hood, at least Google or the iPhone will not be aware of what we are having for lunch.

Next up, what to trust in the growing antitrust movement around the world.