Hands across the table

The Frightful Five

A little while ago now, I read an article in The New York Times describing one man’s epiphany about his enslavement to the ‘Frightful Five’ – the five biggest tech companies in the world. However, due to the nature of tech giant worship, the issue remains and it’s been playing on my mind ever since.

I’m sure you’d probably be able to guess them if you were given the opportunity, but just in case, the ‘Frightful Five’ consists of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet (parent company of Google). Looking at that list, it’s easy to see how you could feel trapped by the overbearing nature of these companies. After all, they’re omnipresent and scarily omnipresent in modern life. The majority of us will, at least, come into contact with each of them on a daily basis and, at most, have our lives dictated by each of them on an hourly basis.

Something that initially attracted me to the original article was the quasi-social experimental nature of hypothetically ranking each of the five companies, beginning with which one you could feasibly cut out of your life first. It was interesting to read about the journalist’s particular obsession with Amazon and how conspicuously it had become so interminably integrated into his life. He described it as “my confessor, my keeper of lists, a provider of food and culture, an entertainer and educator and handmaiden to my children”. Now, I love Amazon, but it hasn’t impacted my life quite as profoundly as that.

However, on reflection, Apple probably has. I remember getting my first iPhone quite late on, just before I went to University as my old Sony Ericsson mobile was on its very last legs. Overnight the way I communicated with everyone in my life changed: iMessage felt instantaneous when compared to the seemingly antiquated SMS; being able to access my social media without being tethered to my desktop was liberating. Even something as mundane as mobile payments felt revolutionary to me. It’s probably an experience shared by many and I haven’t looked back since.

I spoke to a few of my colleagues about this and it seems that we all have our own unique tech slave driver. For instance, Ben described the notion of giving up Google as “like giving up air”, whilst Andy’s proclamation on the goliath went something like, “man’s gotta make a living”.

Yet, there was a theme of reluctance running through all my conversations around this topic. Dan admitted to a lifelong love affair with Apple, but prefaced his statement with, “I hate to say it, but…” and followed up with, “I feel like idiot buying all of their stuff because they seem to rule the world”, whilst Sophie described herself as a “slave” to her iPhone; not exactly glowing endorsements.

Another interesting point in the feedback on the ‘Frightful Five’ was the similarity of people’s ranking of the companies. A whopping 80% of the lists showed that my colleagues were least likely to give up Google. Whilst that statistic might not be all that surprising, it is shocking given Google’s recent misdemeanours. It proves the company’s supremacy in today’s tech market that, even in the face of its self-imposed controversy, we’d all still be that loyal to the engine and be so unlikely to give it up.

At the other end of the scale, Facebook was overwhelmingly slated as first to go in 80% of people’s lists, yet we continue to use it. Ben said that “I use Facebook every day, even though it’s my least favourite social platform”. Isn’t the grip that a company like Facebook has over us odd given the fact that we all, almost unanimously, agree that we’d ditch it given the chance?

It’s all a bit scary really, but I suppose that’s why the original article dubbed the companies the ‘Frightful Five’. Such a relatively small number of companies have an overwhelming, vice-like grip on our lives, our productivity, our careers and our friendships. Does this give them licence to take advantage of us? How close are we to a completely brainwashed society? Are we too reliant on a select clutch of tech behemoths for our own wellbeing? Who knows; it seems that we’re probably too far down the rabbit hole to turn back now anyway, and thus the frightful reign continues.


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