Internet Nerd Compendium

Internet Nerd Compendium

internet // philosophy // politics // sociology

5 small changes to clean up your tech

Remember: there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. But there are small changes we can make to improve our impact on the world.

We’re living in truly dark times at the moment. While things may seem bleak, it can sometimes be helpful to focus on small positive changes you can make in your own life. Brighten your own little corner of the world, and be the change you want to see. Here are 5 suggestions for changing your tech habits for the better.

1. Change your tabs

If you, like me, have approximately 1 billion tabs open at a time (especially as I’m heading into deep dissertation research) you can use your habits to help others. Tab for Change opens a homepage, where you can save your most needed websites with a customisable background. They also sell ad space on the tab, and use the funds to donate to a range of charities. They’re currently supporting Human Rights Watch, Give Directly and The Bail Project, among others.  They also run specific campaigns that are time sensitive.

Find out more and add it to your browser.

2. Ditch Amazon

Amazon is a truly unethical company. They recently had to apologise for a tone-deaf Tweet, which denied that workers in their US distribution centres are forced to urinate in plastic water bottles to keep up with their punishing quotas. Multiple journalists have reported seeing bottles of pee first hand at Amazon warehouses. They are being sued for not protecting their workers from COVID-19. The company engages the services of the Pinkertons to spy on their employees – an agency with over 100 years experience in strike breaking. They paid zero corporation taxes in Europe for 2020 – despite raking in huge profits during the pandemic. These are just the latest scandals – I could go on and on.

So – make some little swaps. Buying a book? Use the lovely new bookshop.org in the UK – the website supports awesome local bookshops as well as starving Amazon of your custom. Pay for Amazon Prime? Consider cancelling your account – Ethical Consumer has some great alternatives. Looking for weird little one off buys? Ethical Consumer has a huge list of places to shop online. Wherever you can – avoid Amazon.

3. Switch search engine

Alphabet is yet another gigantic, unaccountable monolithic tech company. The recent case of Timnit Gebru, a brilliant computer scientist who Google abruptly fired for… well, doing her job, by all accounts, is a microcosm of how it operates. It does a good job of presenting as an innovative, shiny utopian company – but when the opportunity to really change comes up, Alphabet seems to choose profit over ethics every time. It is a good 6 years since the company removed the epithet ‘Don’t be evil’ from their company documents

So what are the alternatives? 

I personally use Ecosia it’s premise is lovely (they use their profits to plant trees and are carbon negative – even better than carbon neutral). However – their search algorithm leaves a little to be desired. It’s not very accurate – meaning I sometimes struggle to find what I’m looking for. Additionally, it isn’t as picky as Google when it comes to de-listing sites with Qanon, anti-vax or antisemitic content on it – so tread with care.

Several friends have recommended Duck Duck Go to me – this privacy-focused search engine is ideal if you are concerned by the data industrial complex. it’s algorithm is reportedly more accurate in finding what you’re looking for, but it has the same problem as regards keeping out the dark side of the internet. 

Tab for change recently announced they are looking to develop a search engine – so I may well give that a try when it comes out. Got an alternative of your own? Chuck it in the comments.

4. Unsubscribe from emails

I started doing this as an alternative to doom scrolling. It’s strangely therapeutic to go through the billions of emails I’m subscribed to and gradually unsubscribe. A study by green energy supplier Ovo found that tens of millions of unnecessary emails are sent in the UK every day. While their study focused on individual’s emails (their top offenders were emails such as ‘Thanks’,  ‘Have a good weekend’ or ‘Received’) the carbon taken up by promotional emails, with their graphics and tracking information, are an even bigger problem. Do your bit – click ‘unsubscribe’ from your junk emails AND cut down on short, pointless emails.

What about websites that make you sign up for a discounts? Try using a disposable email account – here’s a list of some to get you started. Not only does this cut down on your digital carbon footprint, it’s also more data secure – ensuring that your genuine contact details aren’t collected, sold or leaked by the websites you might use.

5. Starve the professional trolls

This is one I’ve only recently started to implement myself – and it’s done wonders for my mental health, as well as improving the ethics of my online interactions. Social media websites – in particular Twitter – rely on ‘engagement’ to make a profit. It’s been theorised this is why it’s taken so long for the sites to take action against known provocateurs such as Donald Trump, Alex Jones or Lee Hurst – they drove furious engagement from both their followers and those outraged at the things they posted. 

If you’re online and see a celebrity or politician saying bigoted or anti-science things, it can be tempting to join the pile on and call them out for their behaviour. It rarely causes brands or celebrities to rethink their actions and it requires enormous amounts of energy (both in terms of the electricity for millions of Twitter users to be online and their comments hosted, as well as the mental energy spent fighting with awful people and bots online). My new approach? Block ‘em all. Deny them your clicks, your comments, your energy. I recently blocked every single one of the presenters from the new GB News channel – this channel is undoubtedly planning on staying relevant by trying to kick off tsunamis of outrage online. If you have a massive digital platform with the clout to call the hucksters out, by all means – go ahead. With my modest influence I figure the best I can do is starve them of comments, clicks, and dunks. 

Likewise – I carefully rotate which publications I link to here on my blog, on social media and in my other work as a writer. I never link to the Sun, The Times, The Spectator or the Daily Mail. I try not to link to the Guardian due to it’s history of transphobic columnists – and take a similarly sceptical view of the Atlantic. Additionally – I try very hard not to link to Vice (unless they have an exclusive) as their co-founder also started the Proud Boys, a far right extremist group. So – think before you link.

(Keep reading for some bigger swaps you can make)

Bigger changes you can make

I will try and expand this into a full article at some point, but if you’re looking to take the next step beyond the above think about:

    • Your next phone – last summer I switched to a Fairphone. Made in the Netherlands from ethically-sourced materials, it’s workers are paid fairly AND the whole thing is modular – meaning you are encouraged to take it apart to fix it. Can’t recommend it enough. They will take away and recycle your old phone too. Apple sell refurbished phones, which can be a greener solution too. I also use the Phone Co-op for my mobile and wifi – they’re a co-operative company and use green energy.
    • Clean up your money – some of the big banks are terrible offenders when it comes to both ethical and environmental choices. HSBC have repeatedly been found to launder money for cartels and terrorists, invest in carbon and weaponry (which they give the Orwellian term ‘defence equipment’). Switching your bank account to be with a building society or an ethical bank like Triodos can divest your money from stuff that kills people and the planet. 
    • Switch your energy provider – choose an energy provider that uses green energy and you are investing in a better future for us and the planet. Once again the Ethical Consumer site comes to the rescue with a guide on choosing ethical energy companies. My folks have just invested in their own solar panels, and are planning on buying an electric car so they can charge it from their own roof! But that requires owning a house – something I am unlikely to do in the foreseeable future.

Got more tips on making swaps to make the world better? Leave a comment.

(Photo by Ravi Rashon on Unsplash)

(Photo by Grianghraf on Unsplash)

(Photo by Grainghraf on Unsplash)

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