By Dan Wilcock

Last June I quit Facebook after reading Who Owns the Future? Since then, I bought a used DVD copy* of the Social Network and have watched it twice. The film’s parable of asocial ambition confirms my bias against Facebook’s fundamental creepiness. My update: I don’t miss Facebook, but must admit that I subsequently became a more frequent Tweeter. These companies can fill real human needs, but they also fuel unfortunate screen addictions. Riding the bus every day, I’m surrounded by folks and their feeds. They have one thing going for them, though: At least they aren’t driving!

But back to Facebook–good riddance. Why should we make them rich by handing over our life narratives? It’s a pity no-one reads the user agreement. It says that they won’t pay you for the content you provide. My guess is that one of the big companies will one day start paying people for what they do online, and a new market will be born. Until then, we are suckers in their game.

As a new year’s resolution, 2014 is my year of Amazon.com abstinence. So far so good, but here again I have an admission to make. Although my overall spending declined, I’ve still bought books, music and gifts. My four sources are importcds.com for music, bn.com and Better World for books, and eBay for other random things. This fracturing of purchases into more discreet categories is probably a good thing. If I know what I tend to buy more clearly, I can focus on whether I really need to do so. For example, sometimes I really feel I must add a book to my collection. I’ll do so, sometimes, but I can usually extinguish this desire in one of two ways:

  1. Check out the book from the library and read the first 100 pages. If I’m still convinced it’s a classic that I’ll re-read at least once, then I’ll buy it. But otherwise I’ll be satisfied without, and in some cases I won’t even finish the book because it’s a drag. Ownership is a funny thing. Once you expand the concept to include all of the resources in the public domain, for which you likely helped to pay, then the need for stockpiles of “private” goods diminishes.
  2. Count the number of unread books at home. I usually come up with about 50, to which I could add about 10 on the shelf in my office. All of these at one point occupied the part of my brain dedicated to impulsively acquiring things. By rekindling the desire I once felt for these things, the realization dawns that I could go the rest of the year and probably all of next year without buying another tome. To the extent that I’m reminded of my partial “ownership” of the library, it’s possible that I won’t need to for the rest of this decade. Perhaps the print publishing industry will have comepletely gone up in flames by then, at which point I’ll reluctantly start reading books on screens.

Here’s to raging against the machine in small incremental ways.

*I got it for a dollar at Record Exchange, one of Silver Spring, MD’s handful of badass record stores (hey, there’s a great idea for a forthcoming post.)

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