I tried to live without the tech giants. It was impossible.

The chief executives of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple were called before a House antitrust committee this week, apparently to answer questions about whether they have too much power and whether that hurts consumers.

The tech bosses, who showed up via videoconference, rejected questions about being “cyberbarons,” saying they have a lot of competition and that consumers have other options for the services they offer.

But they? Last year, in an effort to understand how dependent we are on these companies, I conducted an experiment for the tech news site Gizmodo to see how difficult it would be to remove them from my life.

Doing that was not easy. From my years writing about digital privacy, I knew that these companies were at the bottom of many of our online interactions. I worked with a technologist named Dhruv Mehrotra, who designed a custom tool for me, a virtual private network that prevented my devices from sending or receiving data from tech giants by blocking the millions of Internet addresses that companies controlled.

Then I blocked Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft, one by one, and then all at once, for six weeks. Amazon and Google were the most difficult companies to avoid by far.

Removing Amazon from my life meant losing access to any site hosted by Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud provider on the Internet. Many apps and a large part of the Internet use Amazon’s servers to host their digital content, and much of the digital world became inaccessible when I said goodbye to Amazon, including Amazon’s competitor Prime Video Netflix.

Amazon was also difficult to avoid in the real world. When I ordered a phone holder for my car from eBay, it came in Amazon’s signature packaging, because the seller used “Fulfillment by Amazon”, paying the company to store and ship their product.

When I blocked Google, the entire internet slowed down for me, because almost every site I visited used Google to supply their sources, run their ads, track their users, or determine if their users were human or bots. While blocking Google, I was unable to log in to the Dropbox data storage service because the site thought it was not a real person. Uber and Lyft stopped working for me, because they both relied on Google Maps to navigate the world. I discovered that Google Maps had a de facto monopoly on online maps. Even Google’s longtime critic, Yelp, used it to tell computer users where businesses could be found.

I came to think of Amazon and Google as the providers of the very infrastructure of the Internet, so embedded in the architecture of the digital world that even its competitors had to rely on their services.

Facebook, Apple and Microsoft came up with their own challenges. While Facebook was less debilitating to block, I terribly missed Instagram (which owns Facebook) and stopped receiving news from my social circle, such as the birth of a good friend’s son. “I guess if I post something on Facebook, everyone will know,” she said when I called her weeks later to congratulate her. I tried an alternative called Mastodon, but a social network devoid of any of your friends is not very funny.

Apple was difficult to abandon because it had two Apple computers and an iPhone, so I ended up acquiring radical new hardware so I could continue to access the Internet and make phone calls.

Android software from Apple and Google has a duopoly in the smartphone market. Wanting to avoid both companies, I ended up buying a dumb phone, a Nokia 3310 where I had to relearn the art of texting with number keys, and a laptop running a Linux operating system from a company called Purism that is trying of creating “an ethical computing environment,” that is, helping its users avoid technological giants.

Yes, there are alternatives to the products and services offered by the tech giants, but they are more difficult to find and use.

Microsoft, which is not in the antitrust seat this time but knows how it feels, was easy to block at the consumer level. As my colleague Steve Lohr points out, Microsoft is “primarily a technology provider for business customers” these days.

But like Amazon, Microsoft has a cloud service, so some sites went dark for me, as did two frequently owned Microsoft-owned services, LinkedIn and Skype. Not being able to use the giant tech services I love is a danger to this experiment: As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, tech giants have bought more than 400 companies and startups in the past decade.

Critics of big tech companies are often told, “If you don’t like the company, don’t use their products.” What I learned from the experiment was that it is not possible to do that. It is not just about the products and services marked with the name of the great technological giant. It’s that these companies control a thicket of darker products and services that are difficult to untangle from the tools we depend on for everything we do, from work to point A to point B.

Many people called what I did “digital veganism”. Digital vegans are deliberative about the hardware and software they use and the data they consume and share, because information is power and more and more companies seem to have it all.

There were two very different types of reaction to the story. Some people said it demonstrated how essential these companies are to the American economy and how useful they are to consumers, meaning that regulators should not interfere with them. Others, like Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and an ex officio member of the House antitrust committee, said at the time that the experiment was proof of its monopoly power.

“By controlling essential infrastructure, these companies appear to have the ability to control access to markets,” said Nadler. “In some basic respects, the problem is no different than the one we faced 130 years ago, when the railroads transformed American life, allowing farmers and producers access new markets, but it also created a key bottleneck that rail monopolies could exploit”.

If you were still blocking tech giants today, you wouldn’t have been able to watch this week’s antitrust audience online. C-SPAN broadcast it online through YouTube, owned by Google.

However, after the experiment was over, I went back to using the companies’ services again, because as demonstrated, I really had no choice.