In May I made the decision to excise the so-called “Big Five” tech companies from my life for a month. That meant no services offered by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, or any of their subsidiaries.
There were a number of reasons I wanted to undertake this experiment, ranging from reclaiming my privacy to learning more about how the technology I use every day actually works. The main reason, however, was simply to see if the Big Five services were actually necessary or merely convenient.
I found that there were adequate open-source or independent replacements for pretty much every major Big Five service. In some cases, such as mapping software or social media platforms, the gulf between the Big Five and alternative services was so large that it made a noticeable, negative impact on my life. But in most cases, the open-source or independent alternatives worked just fine and it was simply a matter of getting used to their quirks.
I’ve written a long reflection and extensive guide to quitting the Big Five if you’re interested in hearing more about how the experiment went. If you just want to know some of the main takeaways from my month without Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, this list is for you:
- One of my biggest concerns before I deleted my Facebook profile was that it would destroy my social life. After almost a year off the platform, however, I’ve found that this wasn’t the case at all. Facebook’s insistence that it is the heart and soul of communities and friendships is a marketing ploy, not reality. If anything, leaving the social media platform decreased my FOMO.
- Quitting the social media platform is significantly more of a pain in the ass if you’ve linked other third-party applications to your Facebook profile. Just use your email address and a password manager to log in to these apps instead.
- Facebook makes it quite difficult to download high-resolution copies of your photos from the site in bulk. There are scripts that will do this, but they take a long time and crash often, so be prepared to spend several hours pulling your photos if you’ve stored a lot of them on Facebook.
- You can build an incredibly powerful computer for far less than the cost of a Apple desktop or MacBook. Apple products are just luxury items backed by intensive ad campaigns targeted at “creatives.” If you’re really worried about functionality, you can get better PC performance for a fraction of the price by picking your own components and assembling the computer yourself. I promise it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds.
- Linux is great. It’s also free, which is exactly $139 cheaper than Windows.
- It turns out you can get most things you need at IRL stores and everything else is available at speciality websites. Strange, but true! Getting things in two days is nice, but ultimately unnecessary. If you must have Amazon Prime, however, it’s possible to get the service for free for life. Also, Amazon owns the Internet Movie Database—who knew?
- There still isn’t a great replacement for Google Maps, but Here is pretty close.
- Setting up your own “cloud” service can be done for as little as $50 without needing a ton of technical skill.
- There are really no good open source alternatives for Google Drive as far as collaborative document editing goes.
- Ditching Android is hard. Sailfish is pretty much the only remaining independent mobile operating system still in existence, but it’s basically impossible to get onto some phones. Although there is a vibrant community of hackers who are developing their own forked versions of Android, Google is cracking down on these unofficial versions by making it impossible to download Google apps from its app store with unofficial Android OSes. On the other hand, it’s really not difficult to sideload apps onto an unofficial Android version using APK files.
- DuckDuckGo is a pretty good replacement for Google search and shows that an ad-supported search engine doesn’t require violating users’ privacy.
The important thing is to realize that none of these services are necessary. We may have come to develop a deep reliance on them, but that’s not the same thing. Being an “Apple person” or a “Windows person” is a marketing gimmick, not a personality trait. Amazon is just a version of Walmart that collaborates with cops. Your community existed before Facebook. Google wasn’t always a verb. We have the ability to change these companies by the way we interact with them—but only if we want to.
Want a more in-depth account of quitting the Big Five? Check out: How I Quit Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft