We live in an all-digital age today; and what an amazing age it is! With a few clicks of a remote control, or a few taps of our finger, we can start watching old re-runs of the Wonder Years at home or on the train. We can pay monthly bills without risking a nasty paper cut from stuffing a check into an envelope or trudging down to the Post Office to buy more stamps. All of our yearnings for immediacy, convenience and content are now satisfied on so many different levels. Our digital prayers have been answered! Or have they...?
Persistence of the All-Digital Age
If ‘some’ of a good thing is good, wouldn’t ‘more’ of a good thing be better? We can cut down on paper consumption by signing up for electronic bills. We can reduce the amount of trash in our landfills by purchasing digital copies of music and movies instead of physical disks. I can put all the photos and videos of my children’s first steps and birthday parties in the cloud so a hard drive crash on my home PC won’t erase those digital memories forever. Going ‘all-digital’ seems to have so many tangible benefits that improve our lives. Even better, all of the companies that I do business with seem to make it so easy to cutover; and they constantly remind me to do it!
To wit, these benefits are all real. The benefits of going all-digital help to reduce, or sometimes even eliminate those banal, recurring tasks like paying bills each month! In turn, that time can be spent focusing on more fruitful pursuits. However, as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is still a price to pay for all of this newfound convenience.
The rules, faces and playing field may change, but the end goal of these seemingly magnanimous corporations remains the same: they provide a service to make money. Understanding the trade-offs attached to these services and being comfortable with them is intrinsically an individual journey. After all, we all have different thresholds and limits, making this process a necessarily independent one.
What follows below are various factors that you should account for when considering the move to a lifestyle more entrenched in the digital domain.
Potential Issues with an All-Digital Lifestyle:
You have less control
Behemoth companies serve as a landlord to your data. Questions you may ask include:
- “Where is it being stored?”
- “Who can look at it?”
- “How are they chopping it up/analyzing it?
My eyes are glazing over just suggesting this, but be sure to review all license agreements. The fine print is there to both protect and frame a corporation’s interests. Even with these in place, companies do violate these themselves at times. In 2012, Facebook performed mood-altering experiments on some users without their consent. In all fairness, Facebook did update their license agreement around this time, but that still feels pretty shady. I’m not sure about you, but being an unwitting lab rat doesn’t sound too appealing to me.
Subject to hacking
Even though we are becoming increasingly desensitized to them, data breaches do happen. Without the cards actually reaching their expiration dates, I’ve received 3 updated credit cards in the last two years due to some vendors’ “indiscretions”. How would you feel if all of your medical and banking data were leaked? Sure, this could happen without you having made the ‘all-digital’ switch, but it’s one of the side effects of our increasing dependence on digital storage.
Potentially more expensive
Remember the good ol’ days when you could buy a CD or DVD once? You owned that copy and could listen to the songs or watch the movie as often as you liked. The newer subscription model has you paying every month. At $9.99 or less, the prices purposely fly just under our “fiscal” radar. Unless you are a prodigious consumer of new content, keep these hidden costs in mind.
Corporate Policy Changes
Starting with the tail end of my high school years (coinciding with getting a job and having a disposable income), I began accumulating music. So many songs were inextricably linked to positive memories and experiences that I wanted to hold onto. Years later when support for MP3 encoding started gaining traction, I quickly latched on and started the onerous task of manually ripping all those CDs to MP3. It wouldn’t set any records, but I ended up with about 10,000 songs.
A few years later, Amazon allowed me to upload all of these MP3 files to their servers. They didn’t charge me for the storage and I was able to stream them at any time (Woot!). A few months back, Amazon proudly introduced their new, monthly Amazon Music service. I declined to subscribe as I already had all the music I wanted.
Fast forward to last week. I was using the Amazon Cloud Player on shuffle and noticed a distinct “lack” of variety. I did some digging and saw that my library now only contained just over 1,000 songs! Amazon deleted 90% of my MP3s from their servers,
leaving only those that I had actually purchased through Amazon.
I have numerous backup copies at home, but Amazon’s course correction snuck up on me and has diminished the usefulness of their offering that I’m left with. These types
of changes are made in a corporation’s best interests, so don’t be surprised when a cord is cut and you’re left treading water in the wake of the boat that you had been water skiing behind for so long.
Not a Zero Carbon footprint
If “saving the environment” is high on your list of reasons to go all-digital, the truth is that resources are being spent regardless. All that digital content is housed in huge data centers with thousands of servers & hundreds of routers. These powerhouses chew up electricity at a rate that would make your head (and the electricity meter) spin. That electricity needs to be generated somehow and I’ve yet to hear of a hosting provider that runs their machines using only solar, wind and biomass. All the devices in your home also never truly go to sleep. Notice how much higher your electricity bill is than even 5 years ago. Look for that trend to continue in the all-digital age.
Dependent on Internet connection
This is typically OK when you’re home and using your own Wi-Fi, but on the road you are most likely using your phone provider’s data plan. These are not cheap and overages can result in unexpected spikes in your monthly bills.
Even worse, if you use electronic billing and auto-debiting, you don’t even see these larger bills and may not even realize that this is happening. Some areas have more frequent broadband outages than others, so keep this in mind. In the meantime, be sure to enable the “Always Use Wi-Fi When Available” option on all your mobile devices and apps where possible.
Here’s a doozy: all of your online activity is tracked. Sorry to be the one to break this to you. Admit it - somewhere in the back of your mind, you knew this was happening. Seeing banner ads on site xyz.com for something you just Googled or viewed on Amazon cannot be chalked up to “coincidence”.
Even when you clear your browser’s cookies, there are methods that can circumvent this and maintain a grip on your identity. Data brokers capture, exploit and sell nearly all activity that contributes to your digital dossier. Corporations want this information so that they can do more targeted marketing which, statistically speaking, will result in your upgrading that monthly subscription and buying more from them. The all-digital era is a digital marketing dream come true, after all!
True story: Earlier this week, my kids re-watched the first “Despicable Me” movie on a Blu-Ray disc we bought in 2012. When I got home that evening, my wife mentioned that the preview that played before getting to the top-level menu was for the new
“Minions” movie that was just released in the US last week (July 10, 2015)! Funny how that’s possible. And now my kids want to see the new movie… It’s not paranoia if the threat is real
With the multitude of online accounts that you’ll need to maintain when going all-digital, the allure of re-using passwords across the sites beckons like a freshly cooked Christmas turkey to the Bumpus hounds.
Don’t do it.
This is taboo from a security perspective. It creates extra work and unnecessary exposure for you if one of the sites suffers from an “indiscretion” and has a data breach (see bullet above). Use a password manager or vault to generate completely random passwords and securely save them for you.
Studies have shown that all this time spent online can actually lead to isolation and aberrant behavior. Taking a walk to the mailbox more often gives you a chance to get an incremental amount of exercise (logged on your Fitbit!). Maybe even say hi to the neighbors once in a while. Just keep this in mind the next time you find yourself checking social media instead of connecting with the folks who are physically in proximity to you.
All-Digital – the Choice is Yours
To be sure, there are many benefits inherent in today’s online cornucopia of offerings. However, their use is not without its own pitfalls – some of which are as new or foreign to us as the “magic” of the hidden complexity needed to provide an instant/on-demand world. As always, common sense is your best ally, especially when aided by a better understanding of the risks imposed by going all-digital.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go load all my MP3s back onto my 3rd generation iPod so I can listen to the Beatles on my ride to work…