When I was visiting friends and family in Denver a few weeks back, I happened upon Mr. Robot, the new USA television series. I don’t have cable so I ended up binge-watching the first 4 episodes, much to my dismay and delight (my inherent capability to binge watch is the primary reason I don’t have cable or TV; I would never get anything done. As it stands now, Netflix is a hard enough beast for me to defeat each evening I get home from work). I liked the show immediately; crazy protagonist and kick-ass supporting characters. Watching it, it reminded me just how easy it is to give your information away to anyone that offers something shiny or a service that everyone else is using. The little imp inside me started picking at my brain threads.
When I got back home, I deleted my Twitter account. I had already deleted my LinkedIn account earlier in the year and never got involved with Facebook. At the same time, I deleted my Spotify and Soundcloud accounts. I culled my Pocket list, removed that account, and installed Wallabag on my personal server. Tiny Tiny RSS has been installed on my server and I’m slowly going through all my code repositories, transferring them to my own Gitlab Phabricator installation self-hosted git repositories on my server*.
A bit extreme, to be sure, but hear me out. I’ve got quite a few reasons to minimize my online footprint, limit communication with people, and take the time to deal with the frustration of installing services that are easier done by just clicking “Sign Up.”
Let’s take Twitter. I’ve loved Twitter. It’s how I used to get my news from news sources that I cultivated. It’s how I kept in touch with some of my Aereo colleagues. It allowed me to interact with a larger group. But, in reality, it fostered shallow relationships and anyone could find out a lot about me based on my tweets and who I followed. It’s natural to make assumptions about people but when those assumptions are based off of 140 characters and a list of feminist, LGBT accounts that I had followed, that’s a one-sided view of my multifaceted life. And those feminist, LGBT accounts tweeted about topics I was interested in but in not following opposing viewpoints, I had created my own filter bubble. I failed to see the larger picture. The proverbial nail in the coffin was when I bought an iPod Touch; each morning I’d open up the Twitter app, scroll through the tweets from the night before, before drinking coffee or even getting out from under the sheets, getting into a tizzy before understanding the whole story behind a tweet.
Granted, I’ve given up being able to easily reach out to former coworkers. A few times they helped me through a coding issue in my new job through tweets. But, deleting my Twitter account doesn’t prevent me from reaching out through email, which I know leads to a better conversation and a wonderful by-product are stronger friendships.
Giving up Spotify and Soundcloud doesn’t prevent me from listening to music. I still pop on Soundcloud but an account isn’t required to listen. I’ve rediscovered the glory of radio, often piping the WGBH Classical station through my headphones while I code at work or on my stereo at home while typing out this blog post (A Celtic Sojourn, on the WGBH news station, is a favorite of mine on Saturdays between 3pm and 6pm; can’t recommend it enough). Not having the ability to cultivate my own playlist allows me to practice tolerance and patience when a song I don’t like comes on the radio. It may be minor but that is what life is made up of—all the minor things. The $10 a month cost is also something I don’t want to be paying for (again, small things add up).
As for Github, I’m not too sure about that yet. I need to keep my account for some work projects but all of my personal repos are slowly being moved to my Phabricator installation. I’ve been worried about what happens when it’s time to find a new job but I can just point to my Phabricator repos rather than Github. Git, by its very nature, is a decentralized system; I shouldn’t be worried that I’m hosting my own repos (in fact, it may improve my chances at getting a job).
I took the time to install Gitlab and the various other services because I wanted to learn how to do it. I wanted the knowledge. It’s the same reason why I know how to change my oil, build a desk, or wire up new lighting in a house; I’m not dependent on other people to do things for me. I’m self-sufficient, self-reliant and, if I don’t know how to do something, the power that comes from knowing that I can learn it is greater than the ease I get from using Github or Twitter or Spotify.
Ultimately, removing my external online accounts has allowed me to focus. I’m not reaching for the iPod to view the latest tweets. I’m not chasing down one interesting story to the next. I’m discovering some great music and learning to appreciate classical. I’m increasing my knowledge of Linux and servers in general. Some of my relationships are stronger. I have lost some things but what I’ve gained is much better for me. This also ties into my personal goals with learning to live with less. To decrease not just my online footprint by the footprint I leave in the physical world.
* [Edit 1]: After having quite a few issues with Ruby processes running my server’s memory off the charts, I just didn’t want to deal with that issue any more (seriously, ruby was running over 600 Mb of memory!). So, I spent a few hours today (Sunday) installing Phabricator.
[Edit 2]: Nope, after putzing around with Phabricator’s settings for too long and not being able to figure out how to set up a home page that could be viewed publicly, I just set up the repos on my box directly, not needing a front-end. I’ll be building out git.nikkisnow.com eventually to show the repos but, for now, I can just manage them through the command line like normal.