This may strike some readers and folks who have known me for years as educational technology heresy, but as a disciple of Neil Postman, I’m always eager to encourage more critical thinking about our uses of technology. I am writing to suggest we all seriously “reconsider our Google Love.” By this I mean we should engage in a healthy process of questioning whether our blissful use of Google products (GMail, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google search, etc) both personally and professionally should continue unmoderated / unrestrained, or whether we should consider imposing some limits on our Google-powered lifestyles. The reasons for this are twofold and related: Privacy and Surveillance Capitalism. Let me attempt to (briefly) explain these complex subjects.

Privacy is important, but there are individuals and organizations (Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook/Meta immediately come to mind) whose entire economic business model is based on disrespecting and violating our privacy. This economic model is explained well as “surveillance capitalism.” If you have not watched a Shoshana Zuboff video presentation on her book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” add one to your video watchlist. Consider reading her book by the same title, too.

I use Facebook. I marvel at its power as platform to positively connect and enrich lives. Simultaneously, however, I’m aghast at the ways Facebook continues to empower forces which seek to destroy the fabric of our (relatively) democratic and open society. I started an ongoing media literacy project related to this, in fact, “Conspiracies and Culture Wars,” because seeking to better understand and grapple with these realities and contradictions is one of the most important things we can do today as educators and citizens.

The 16.5 minute video, “How can we build an internet where privacy is the default?” by Andy Yen (@andyyen) is one of the best presentations I’ve seen to date about this choice we need to make as individuals and communities, between privacy and surveillance capitalism. I recommend you take a few minutes to watch it now, or add it to your YouTube “watch later” playlist.

Convincing people that “privacy matters” and our online behaviors should change as a result of this understanding is a BIG challenge. We tend to have lazy brains, and it’s just easier to not worry about privacy, give your data away without a second thought, and keep using free online tools without restrictions or limits like Facebook and Google. But is this good for us, individually or corporately? That answer, I’m sad to report, is a clear NO. The Center for Humane Technology (@HumaneTech_) has wonderful resources on this topic, as does the Electronic Frontier Foundation (@eff).

So if you agree, even “a little bit” at this point, that privacy is important and you should probably do something about it, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Register for a free or paid/subscription ProtonMail email account and consider migrating to it over time.
  2. Download and use FireFox as your primary web browser.
  3. Use DuckDuckGo as a privacy-first web search engine.
  4. Install and use UBlock Origin as an ad blocker on the Chrome web browser.
  5. Download and install / setup Jumbo to reconfigure some of your privacy settings on sites like Facebook and in Google services like Google Maps, GMail, Google search, etc. (For example, does Google really need to archive all your location data forever?)
  6. Setup a social media profile on an alternative platform to Facebook or Twitter like Mastodon or K12Leaders. (Like me you may not want to give up the others… but its worthwhile to try and experience some alternatives.)

Miguel Guhlin also suggests using Bitwarden as an open source password manager. I definitely recommend using a password manager, but recommend 1Password and LastPass. These recommendations are closely tied to personal security and protecting yourself from hacks / identity theft / data breaches. It’s like making sure you have good locks on all the doors of your house. It’s prudent and wise to be proactive with digital security as well as physical security, because the consequences and costs of a break-in can be steep. Put your own email addresses and those of family members into haveibeenpwned.com if you need more persuasion before jumping on the password manager bandwagon, as well as the 2FA / MFA Mardi Gras float.

What I’m suggesting here with email, web browsers, search engines, privacy settings, and social media platforms is HARD. But I think these steps are also GOOD and necessary. I don’t agree with Jaron Lanier at this point, that we should delete our social media accounts. If you do and want to, go for it, more power to you. Despite the negative aspects of these platforms today, I continue to maintain the benefits outweigh the costs of personal use of these platforms. That said, however, I definitely believe we need enhanced legal privacy protections in the United States, as well as updated anti-trust / anti-competitive legislation which can curtail and mitigate the most destructive effects we see from “big tech.”

If you’d like to hear me share more about these topics, along with my partner in weekly podcasting, Jason Neiffer (@techsaavyteach), I invite you to join us on Wednesday nights (US time) for “The EdTech Situation Room” (@edtechSR). We frequently take up topics such as this. You also might sign up for my Substack newsletter on media literacy. I haven’t written / shared a lot there so far, but I suspect that will be changing soon.

Reconsider your Google love. I’m not saying you or I need to ‘file for Google divorce.’ But I am saying what Val Kilmer memorably declared as Doc Holiday in the 1993 film, Tombstone, talking to Big Noss Kate:

“It appears we must redefine the nature of our association.”

From movie-sounds.org

I think were he still alive, Neil Postman would heartily agree with the benefits of this relational reconsideration with Google.

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Made with Love in Oklahoma City