Remember when surfing the web was a treat? A delicacy almost. You’d fire up the whatever-kilobaud modem and start the pay-per-minute meter running and read about politics on Salon or whatever. A fun time. That’s no longer the case, and I’m honestly rotting from overexposure to the online.
This week, Amazon announced that all Fire TV devices would now support web-browsing. You can download Silk, the company’s proprietary browser, or Firefox for free so that you can visit internet websites on your goddamn TV. I’m using a naughty word because I’m almost pissed off that Amazon is trying to make web TV a thing again. The only thing holding me back from actual anger is the simple fact that it doesn’t cost Amazon much to add a new feature to its already terrific set top box offering. However, it might cost you your sanity.
There’s just too much internet everywhere. Every day it feels like I wake up and something else in my house is connected to the internet. But at first, it was kind of fun. I remember when, well over a decade ago, I got a Blackberry from my wacky college job, and I’d pull up webpages on it not because I actually wanted to read them but because using the internet on a phone was a freaking miracle. When I got an iPhone, years later, I downloaded all the dumb apps that overused internet connectivity and even creepier stuff, like location services. Remember Highlight? I was glued to that thing for at least one week.
Everything is different these days. My smartphone feels completely useless without an internet connection, as it’s become my primary computer. My apartment is riddled with internet-connected devices, including my TV, my lightbulbs, and my home speaker. I have an Amazon Echo and a Google Home Mini, but I leave them unplugged for fear of government surveillance or some catastrophic hack that will leave me homeless after criminals convince the IRS that I’ve never paid taxes or something. I’m a little bit paranoid.
I’m also acutely aware of the fact that we don’t need everything to be connected to the internet. While there is absolutely an argument to be had over whether connectivity is as much a utility as electricity or running water, the Republicans’ recent effort to gut the FCC’s open internet rules confirm my suspicion that the internet is primarily a no-holds-barred slugfest between various profit-hungry corporations. I simply don’t trust Comcast or Google or Amazon or any of the giant companies that control most of what happens online. Every new free service comes with a caveat, and usually it’s massive data collection for better serving me ads. So if I don’t need to connect my refrigerator to the internet—and I don’t—I’ll at least keep my eating habits private.
Then there are the security risks. I am more paranoid about this than most people, in part because I’ve spent years covering hackers and have been hacked myself. But I also believe that most people overlook the threat that their gadgets’ bad security poses. At Thanksgiving this year, my cousin and her husband told me a story about how they used an old internet-connected camera to try and catch the person who was vandalizing their trash cans. Guess what? They caught a hacker instead. After noticing the camera changing positions and acting bizarrely, they went to unplug it, and the camera’s intercom said, “No don’t unplug me!” It was a hacker. This is an extremely common thing for certain connected devices, I told them.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself, though. It was Amazon’s move to turn Fire TV devices into web browsing tools that got me started on this rant, and that’s where I’ll end it. Nobody wants to browse the web on their TV. I’d also argue that making it easy to open URLs on a television is a bad idea, since the World Wide Web is essentially a swamp filled with nasty crocodiles who want to hack you. At best, visiting websites on a TV is just a shitty user experience. I tried the new Firefox browser on Amazon. It sucks.
Anyways, let this weird moment in time serve as a wakeup call. If you’re connecting everything you own to the internet, stop that. It’s handy to have a smartphone that lets you check your email. It’s dangerous to have a camera and microphone in your nursery. It’s also stupid to visit websites on your TV. Just watch a movie for Christ’s sake.