Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

The High Cost of Not Doing Business


People here in the US believe our economy thrives on freedom of choice. Capitalism says it comes from competition, known as the Free Market. Just how free are we, really, to choose?

Back in the heyday of monopolies, politicians passed laws to “bust the trusts.” These laws are still relatively effective. Why then have our consumer choices been declining for decades?

Example: you are free to choose fast food restaurant A or B. Now suppose when you eat, A gives you points that can be applied to future purchases. What number of points will impede you from switching to B?

If you walk away from A, you’ll lose your points, Some number of points will feel like a real cost. What is this cost called? Not blackmail. Restaurant A gave you the points; you can choose to use them or not. I’ll call it goldmail (white and gray are taken).

Of course, this is not about fast food. For a real example take the holy trinity of phone, television, and Internet. You can get them separately or in bundles. And you’re free to change providers. But even without a contract (where do I sign?), there’s a cost.

Our final example is personal computers. Over 95% of personal computer owners have either Windows or Mac. You’ve likely stuck with one because it costs too much to change.

First of all, there’s your time: moving data and installing programs—and the time it takes to learn a new system. Next, there’s the loss of productivity until you get back up to speed,

Last is the new hardware and software, a cost in real dollars. However, that won’t stop you from making the change. No, it’s the cost of your time and effort. Not to mention the anguish of making the decision.

For all these years, you’ve stuck with Windows or Mac. Now you know freedom of choice is an illusion when you’ve being goldmailed.

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