Over the past months I’ve been transitioning away from a number of the digital services and apps I use. Honestly I didn’t set out to do it, rather it has become a snowball effect that started with one service I hated using and has led to an almost meditative evaluation of my digital workspaces and the way I interact with the technologies that are intertwined with my existence.
As a front-end developer and modern first-world citizen I spend most of my day in front of a screen. I am immersed in technology - keeping up with it, using it, interacting with it. It is after all my work. I spend all day shifting between my text editor, terminal, browser and phone. I use social media to interact with the wider world around me. I use a RSS reader to streamline my ability to find, read and share content with others. I use digital bookmarks to keep track of the knowledge I need access to ( either to share with others or for my own reference ). When I’m not in front of a computer and often when i am i use my phone to manage all of these activities on the fly.
As a result of the amount of time I spend with digital technologies and mobile devices it makes sense to me to consider the my digital space in the same way I consider my home.
I wouldn’t intentionally let people in my house to collect information about me and then sell it, I don’t appreciate door to door salesmen or telemarketers and I certainly don’t buy products that aren’t in some way designed to be functional.
Which brings me back to the switch that sparked a bigger transition. Frustrated that I could never find a bookmark when I needed it. I did some research to find a replacement. I wanted a functional and fast service. I didn’t need a fancy web app, I didn’t care if it was beautiful and I certainly didn’t care how many times someone else had bookmarked the same page - this is about my bookmarks, not content discovery — I just wanted to efficiently be able to find my damn bookmarks when I went looking for them. So I switched to a paid service that:
- was designed by someone with a clear grasp of the problem at hand
- has a business model based on satisfying paying customers instead of advertising to them and as a result,
- does not sell customer information to advertisers.
Around the same time I stopped using the most ubiquitous RSS service of our time switching to a self-hosted option with far less integration options with external apps. The upside: it’s designed to surface interesting content while making it simpler to stay on top of the feeds you subscribe to. The lack of integration meant I no longer needed a number of external apps I once used for finding content and that I needed a new iPhone app for managing my RSS feeds. Finally, as I wrote previously I decided to give App.net a try based on the hope of more high quality interactions on social media and the alignment of values with the company.
In transitioning to three highly functional ad-free services with a business model that does not result in my data being sold I was forced to reconsider my workflow and in the process prioritize the types of services I use, evaluate their value proposition and consider the business model and company values behind them.
It turns out this has inadvertently led to a purge as well. I’ve deleted a large number of apps from my phone and revoked access to even more apps from my Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. In short, I’ve consolidated the services and apps I use.
A couple months back Dustin Curtis wrote The Best in which he describes a process of shifting from mindless consumerism to determining what actually matters to you and purchasing products designed with care by people who cared deeply about the problem being solved. While physical objects were the context of Dustin’s article, I believe it is equally applicable to the digital products we use.
The fundamental problem is that many products are created to be sold, not used.
— Sori Yanagi
There is a pleasure and a freedom that comes with choosing and using products that have been designed for function and use by people who understand and care about the problem they are trying to solve.
So here’s the point: Our lives and society are inextricably interwoven with technology, of which digital services and applications are one manifestation. As consumers we have the choice to thoughtfully examine the things that are important to us and choose the “Best” ( qua functionality, trust, value, values and goals ). In the process we can recover a touch of our sanity because our products actually serve us and it just might change our outlook on the rest of the products and digital services we use including the place they have in our lives and our expectations of those who design them.
- Fever - Self hosted RSS
- App.net - Social Network
- Thinkup - Self hosted social media archiving and analytics
The essence of design… lies in the process of discovering a problem shared by many people and trying to solve it.
— Kenya Hara
Designing Design: A thought-provoking and beautiful book by Kenya Hara.
On Digital cleansing
Because it comes down to our own choices. Are we going to spend our time the way we want to or not? Are we going to do the work we say we want to do or not? Intentions are dandy, but real men get to work.
— Shawn Blanc
Shawn Blanc’s Inbox Intentions is a great roundup of the recent articles written by bloggers who are intentionally paring back their content consumption feeds ( especially related to RSS and Twitter ).
I’m not a religious man, but I do think there is deep wisdom in tradition and ritual. The Jubilee offers a way out of oppressive expectations, even if they are our own… Cleaning the digital slate is not a practice of giving up. It is one of self-forgiveness.
— Frank Chimero
Digital Jubilee: A thoughtful post by Frank Chimero.
It’s not just a convenient way to grab all your data. It’s taking a stand against those who use your data for financial gain
Save your memories from the social networks that will destroy them: by Ben Popper from Betabeat.
Own your social netword data with thinkup: by Jon Mitchell from ReadWriteWeb.
- Pinboard for nerds: by Gabe from Macdrifter.