In the technology age, there might be some before unknown advantages to living on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The question is, do they outweigh the disadvantages.
Earlier this week I saw a ZDNet story titled Vizio: The spy in your TV by my friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. Scary stuff. I had a vision of my wife and me and a few dozen of our closest friends having a secret orgy in our living room, except our smart TV’s unblinking eye was recording our every thrust and parry (you might say). Zut alors! In this day of Internet everywhere, we all know that what goes online, stays online. Suddenly our orgy wasn’t secret, and my hopes of becoming the next President were dashed.
Except… lucky me! I’m poor, so I have an oldie-but-goodie dumb TV that doesn’t have a camera. There’s no way my old Vizio can spy on us. As Mel Brooks didn’t quite say, “It’s good to be the poverty case.”
Now about that Internet-connected thermostat. I don’t have one. They’re not only expensive (which is why I don’t have one), but according to this article, they can be hacked to to run ransomware. Oh my! Once again, poverty saves me from a tech problem that can easily afflict my more prosperous neighbors.
And how about the latest iPhone and the skinniest Mac BookPro. Apple sells the iPhone 7 Plus (gotta have the plussier one) for $769 or more. The MacBook, despite Scottish connotations of thrift, is Apple-priced “From $1299.” That’s a bunch of money, especially since we all know that as soon as you buy an Apple product it is obsolete and you need to get ready to buy a new, fancier one.
Also, don’t these things explode sometimes? Or catch on fire or something? My sub-$100 Android phone is safe as houses by comparison. (It has a bigger screen than the biggest-screen iPhone 7, too. Amnazing!)
Really big safe smartphone for cheap. Check. Simple, old-fashioned, non-networked thermostats that can’t be hacked. TV without the spycams most of the Money-TVs have. Check.
But wait! There’s more! The Android phones that got famous for burning up everything in sight were top-dollar models my wife says she wouldn’t want even if we could afford them. Safety first, right? Frugality’s up there, too.
Now let’s talk about how I got started with Linux.
Guess what? It was because I was poor! The PC I had back in the days of yore ran DOS just fine, but couldn’t touch Windows 98 when it came out. Not only that, but Windows was expensive, and I was poor. Luckily, I had time on my hands, so I rooted around on the Internet (at phone modem speed) and eventually lit upon Red Hat Linux, which took forever to download and had an install procedure so complicated that instead of figuring it out I wrote an article about how Linux might be great for home computer use someday in the future, but not at the moment.
This led to the discovery of several helpful local Linux Users Groups (LUGs) and skilled help getting Linux going on my admittedly creaky PC. And that, you might say, led to my career as an IT writer and editor, including my time at Slashdot, NewsForge, and Linux.com.
This effectively, albeit temporarily, ended my poverty, but with the help of needy relatives — and later, needy doctors and hospitals — I was able to stay true to my “po’ people” roots. I’m glad I did. You’ve probably seen this article about hackers remotely shutting down a Jeep Cherokee. Hah! My 1996 Jeep Cherokee is totally immune to this kind of attack. Even my 2013 Kia Soul is relatively immune, since it lacks remote-start/stop and other deluxe convenience features that make new cars easy to hack.
And the list goes on… same as the beat went on for Sonny and Cher. The more conveniences and Internet connections you have, the more vulnerable you are. Home automation? Make you into a giant hacking target. There’s also a (distant) possibility that your automated, uP-controlled home could become self-aware, suddenly say “I can’t do that, Dave,” and refuse to listen to your frantic cries that you aren’t Dave as it dumps you into the Internet-aware garbage disposal.
The solution? You got it! Stay poor! Own the fewest possible web-connect cameras and microphones. Don’t get a thermostat people in Nigeria can program to turn your temperature up and down on one-minute cycles. No automatic lights. I mean… I MEAN… is it really all that hard to flick a light switch? I know, that’s something a previous generation took for granted the same way they once walked across the room to change TV channels, and didn’t complain about it.
Computers? I have (not at my own expense) computers on my desk that run Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. Guess which OS causes me the least grief and confusion? You got it. The one that cost the least!
So I leave you with this thought: In today’s overly-connected world of overly-complex technology, one of the kindest parting comments you can make to someone you care about is, “Stay poor, my friend!”
Robin “Roblimo” Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. Now he’s mostly retired, but still works part-time as an editorial consultant for Grid Dynamics, and (obviously) writes for FOSS Force.