Microserfs and Feudalism

Feudalism is a concept that has been relegated to history classes and Medieval Reenactment Societies. It is a system that is foreign to our modern sensibilities. However, the rise of technology giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft has created a pseudo-techno-feudalistic society. Are we just Microserfs in a new Feudal system?

In the ancient days of computing (just a few years ago), security and data storage was centered around the users. They had a plethora of choices for the level of security they wanted and the way they stored their data. Users were left to their own devices and any failure was left on their shoulders. If your hard drive failed or your computer was infected with a virus, it was the user who was left with the mess to clean up.

As computing culture has evolved, companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft have created a system where they are increasingly responsible for user security and data storage. An increasing amount of people have begun pledging their allegiance to these pseudo-feudal lords. Some of us are fiercely loyal to a certain company, Apple Geniuses who own a MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone and let iCloud sync everything they own between all of their devices; Google Geeks who own an Android tablet and an Android phone and use Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive; or Microsoft Nerds who own a Windows Phone and use Windows 8 on their laptop and desktop and use Windows Live, Outlook and Skydrive. Others of us spread our allegiance between these companies or even utilize lesser lords like Dropbox or Yahoo. Either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid pledging allegiance to at least one of these lords.

Medieval feudalism depended on complex, hierarchical relationships to exchange security for services and labor. In our computing society, we are increasingly reliant on these companies. We trust that they have our best interests in mind and that their security systems are able to withstand the most severe attacks. We choose to do this because of the convenience, automation, and shareability. We give up our control over our security and our data in this system so that we don’t have to think about it. Everything is “up in the cloud” and that gives many of us peace of mind.

Many of us are making this trade-off without thinking about the repercussions. In this society, what are the rights of the users? What sort of rights do these companies have to the data that we are willingly giving them? What would happen if there was a serious security breach at one of these companies? Should we continue to blindly pledge fealty to these lords because of the convenience they provide? These are the questions we should be asking as a society because if we don’t, we are giving these companies free reign over our technological futures.

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