The Hunger

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Have you ever gone grocery shopping when you’re hungry? While that is typical rookie mistake for the uninitiated, I still slip up and do it once and awhile. More than once, I’ve come home with more food than I originally planned (typically food of the dessert variety) because I went to the store on an empty stomach. People can make bad decisions when they put more emphasis on satisfying the needs of the moment, instead of considering the larger implications of our actions.

One of the most famous Biblical examples of poor decisions made under duress is the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis Chapter 25 (v 21-34). Esau and Jacob were the sons of Issac and Rebekah, and grandsons of Abraham. While Esau was the oldest and his father’s favorite, God told Rebekah that Esau would eventually serve his younger brother Jacob. Evidence of this comes to light in verses 29-30:

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.[f])
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Jacob’s demand, in addition to seeming a bit out of place, was also way out of proportion to Esau’s request. A birthright was the material inheritance handed down to sons by their parents. This inheritance would be divided among the sons, with the eldest son receiving a double portion. That’s a lot to ask for a bowl of stew. What was Esau’s response?

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”        33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

Esau, racked with hunger and apparently not focused on the big picture, signs away his birthright to his brother. Many years later, Jacob received not only his brother’s inheritance, but the paternal blessing of his father Issac, after another bit of trickery (Genesis 27). This blessing is also typically reserved for the eldest son. In the end, Esau does serve Jacob, and Jacob goes on to become the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Based on a momentary desire, Esau gave away something of great value for something of little value. Instead of recognizing Jacob’s outrageous request for what it was and demanding new terms (BTW – Why didn’t Esau just get his own stew?), he accepted the offer – a choice he later regretted.

Just because Esau didn’t treat his birthright with care didn’t mean that it wasn’t worth caring for.

While it may be very easy for us to dismiss Esau as a bonehead, we should all consider the lesson this story illustrates and try to apply it to our own lives. In fact, I would assert that most of us exhibit an Esauian level of bone-headedness on a regular basis. And just as with Esau, the time may come when this behavior may be something we regret.

Anyone who has signed up for a new cloud service, bought a new phone app, or loaded new software on a computer is familiar with the installation ritual. We download the app, click on an icon, and the software install program asks us some basic set-up questions. At this point, we are eager to have our new app or game up and running so it can change our lives (if only for a moment or two).

Right before we can get to our anxiously awaited app/web service/software, we are confronted with – “IT”.

You know what “IT” is. It’s black, white, and covered with tiny print. It also requires prodigious amounts of scrolling to get through.

It’s the Terms of Service agreement (TOS). Every software company uses these TOS agreements to define the rights you have (and give up) when it comes to your use of their product. The relationship the software company has with you, the software you purchased, and your data, is defined in this document. TOSs are lengthy, and like most legal documents, are hard for the average person to understand. They also tend to be written with a bias in favor of the author. The terms and conditions described in these documents range from the reasonable, such as not making illegal copies of the software, to the outrageous, such as signing over your immortal soul. These documents are written to give the company as many rights as possible. TOS agreements are also legally binding.

Knowing this I, like most people, simply click the “OK” button in order to get to my bowl of stew. We sign away an unknown number of rights to get to the fun part. We do it to get to a new app, or to get access to the social network that all of our friends are on. Sometimes, we are pressured to click OK because we need this software for our jobs. Other times, we click OK in order to get a service we want for free (like email or office-type apps). Most of the time we click OK because it’s just easier to do that than to take the time to figure out what all that crap means.

We let the real (or more often, self-imposed) need in the moment push us into make choices that we may regret in the future. Choices that result in us giving up our rights to the things we create, and our right to privacy. Like Esau, we do have alternatives. We could seek out open-source software alternatives. We could reject apps that don’t respect our privacy. We could even choosing to PAY (!) for some web services on the condition that our data STAYS ours. Unfortunately, most of us simply click “OK” and take the easy way out.

The good news is that we all don’t have to wind up like Esau. There are helpful online resources available, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s TOSBack 2 mailing list, which tracks the changes in the TOS agreements for some of the most popular web services and notifies you when they change. There’s also a website called Terms of Service – Didn’t Read (http://tosdr.org/) which acts as review site for the TOS agreements of major software or web tools. They explain these agreements in layman’s terms, and grade each on their scale of acceptability.

Use these tools and support these organizations. And don’t be like Esau. Your information IS valuable. Treat it that way.

Please share your thoughts in the comments…

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