Long gone are the days of actually ‘going online’ – or, perhaps more pertinently, going offline. We are just “on” all of the time. Eve Livingston puts the #DeleteFacebook crisis in the perspective of the ubiquitous internet.

At the start of 2018, I made a resolution that would have sounded absurd fifteen years ago. I vowed to leave my phone in another room while I slept.

Plagued by broken sleep and half-dreams of unanswered text messages, overflowing email inboxes and missed calls, I turned to advice which instructed me not to look at a phone screen for thirty minutes before going to sleep and for thirty minutes after waking up. I’ve slept better, woken calmer and felt empowered by the time reclaimed from mindless scrolling and squinting at a bright rectangle in a dark room.

Where did I get the advice? The internet. The irony isn’t lost on me.

Last week #DeleteFacebook began trending in response to the revelations that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed and used its user data, allegedly with implications for political advertising during the 2016 American Presidential election. As users across the world began downloading the data Facebook holds on them ahead of deletion, the extent to which all aspects of our lives are intertwined with the internet became clearer than ever. Screens filled with lists of all phone calls ever made, all text messages ever sent or received, all locations ever visited, all relationships ever made facebook official and then subtly ended after fiddling with security notifications so that friends and family wouldn’t be notified of your heartbreak.

But even if we were all to delete Facebook en masse – easier said than done when you consider how many of us rely on it for purposes as diverse as keeping in touch with family, video calling, photo storage and organising events – we’d barely be scratching the surface in tackling how internet ubiquity impacts our lives and society. How many couples do you know who met online – or who broke up because of a text message or Facebook photo? How often do you check your work emails in the evening or at the weekend? How long has it been since a tweet by the President of the United States dictated the news cycle?

Long gone are the days of actually ‘going online’ – or, perhaps more pertinently, going offline. It’s true that work, relationships and leisure in most parts of the world are largely structured around technology and the internet, often in very negative ways: the boom in low-paid and insecure app-based work in the gig economy, for instance, or the development of targeted advertising to turbocharge our already excessive consumerism. But it’s also true that these are appropriations of the internet for aims which were already being pursued before its conception – and that they have been allowed to take hold not because of any inherent features of the internet itself but because of its owners, controllers and gatekeepers.

Long gone are the days of actually ‘going online’ – or, perhaps more pertinently, going offline. It’s true that work, relationships and leisure in most parts of the world are largely structured around technology and the internet, often in very negative ways: the boom in low-paid and insecure app-based work in the gig economy, for instance, or the development of targeted advertising to turbocharge our already excessive consumerism. But it’s also true that these are appropriations of the internet for aims which were already being pursued before its conception – and that they have been allowed to take hold not because of any inherent features of the internet itself but because of its owners, controllers and gatekeepers.

This is a reality that is only beginning to be acknowledged by governments and citizens alike, and addressed in legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will come into force for EU members in May this year. To the relief of those panicking in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, this will give citizens the right to give and withdraw their consent for companies to hold information about them, introducing a ‘right to be forgotten’ and forcing companies to declare all data and their reasons for holding it, deleting anything they cannot justify. Crucially, all data breaches will be reported to both the Information Commissioner and to those affected – rendering illegal the currently perfectly plausible situation in which your personal information becomes compromised without you ever knowing about it.

This is a welcome measure, but the ownership and management of our data is just one element of a long overdue societal conversation which needs to be bold and wide-ranging enough to address questions about what the internet is really for and who should stand to gain from it. There are, for example, debates about whether internet access should be situated as a universal service akin to energy or water provision, and about whether citizens should be able to share in the profits that are undoubtedly being generated from our data. Relegated largely to the domain of tech specialists, these are issues that are yet to be meaningfully addressed in government responses but which will only become increasingly pertinent across all areas of their work, from democracy and security to economy and the provision of public services.

A lack of understanding and a fear of the unknown can result in a tendency to view our constant connectivity with suspicion and melancholy: a cold and faceless existence far inferior to a more innocent time full of human connection and privacy. But for many, the internet age has also been a lifeline, connecting them to people, goods, services and communities that would otherwise have been inaccessible. If parts of the internet reflect the worst of humanity, that’s because parts of humanity were rotting long before the advent of the internet.

A lack of understanding and a fear of the unknown can result in a tendency to view our constant connectivity with suspicion and melancholy: a cold and faceless existence far inferior to a more innocent time full of human connection and privacy. But for many, the internet age has also been a lifeline, connecting them to people, goods, services and communities that would otherwise have been inaccessible. If parts of the internet reflect the worst of humanity, that’s because parts of humanity were rotting long before the advent of the internet.

Ultimately, the reality is that debates about whether the omnipresence of the internet is a good or bad thing are pointless at best and deflecting at worst; for most of us, the internet is already a constant and crucial part of life, interwoven with our relationships, careers, and leisure time. In place of existential crises and moral panics, we should be pushing for technologies that work in the public good, enhancing society and increasing opportunity rather than accelerating inequality and capitalising on the worst of humanity. The internet may be ubiquitous but questions about its control, ownership and benefits are still very much up for grabs.