If you want to leave Google and Microsoft and Apple and all the rest because you hate what they do with your data and to your country, you don’t need to be convinced to find alternatives. Whether that describes you or not, though, I think it’s wise when making resolutions that we figure out what we want, not just what we don’t.
While the tutorials and reviews on this site don’t delve too far into my worldview, the underlying basis for what I recommend does, and this post explores it. I’m a Protestant Christian, and my views on the subject are informed by that.
Tech as Tool
Technology is a tool, and tools are good. They can be used for evil, true enough, but they are intrinsically good as means to create. A hammer can be used to hit someone over the head, but the reason we make hammers is to build things.
Importantly, we need to be careful not to believe that sin and evil are located in tools themselves. It’s a convenient excuse for us, because the tool can’t defend itself, but it’s dishonest. Doug Wilson, in his book Ploductivity does a masterful job looking at the theology of tools and says the same thing with a dose of profundity I’m not capable of. I recommend the book.
Technology can be dangerous, like all tools. A table saw is dangerous. A hammer can be dangerous. I’ve cut my thumb down the middle with a coping saw. The sorts of technology we talk about here at Big Bad Tech can be dangerous if misused. That just means we need to treat them as tools; with respect, with good purpose, and with increasing skill.
The purpose of any tool is to multiply our work. If you want to chop down a tree, you could scratch at the bark with your fingernails but you won’t get very far. An axe would work much better. A chainsaw would get the job done in a fraction of the time. The better the tools at the job, the more work we can do. Seems obvious, right? But we often have a hard time imagining technology as a tool. It’s more of an ether; it’s a thing we swim in and interact with all the time without intention or planning. If we want to be effective with technology, we need to start thinking of it as a tool. It’s a means to greater effectiveness.
My practical and critical thoughts about technology rest on some pillars. As I continue to develop these further, you can expect the names and organization to change. You’ve got to start somewhere though. My “pillars” are:
For the rest of this post, I want to look at the first item in that list in more detail. I’ll do the same for the others in future posts.
We didn’t have the internet in our home when I was young because no one did; it was something geeks on college campuses used. By the time I was in high school, we had dial up, and those early days featured a lot of interesting websites. Amazon started hosting web services for developers and a ton of new features came out. It was almost always free.
Most of those old websites are gone. The hosting became too expensive and no one was making any money. None of it was durable.
Durability with technology means you stand a good chance of being able to use the same things in twenty years or more that you use now. It means you don’t dread the declining user count of some web service you love, knowing the day will come when the lights go out and your investment there disappears.
Self-hosting, which is the ultimate aim of the server series, is one of the most effective ways to avoid this obsolescence. With self-hosting, the only thing you’ll be forced to replace eventually is the hardware. You can keep running the same software forever. If you choose wisely, you can avoid software that auto-updates so you won’t even lose features or introduce bugs.
Another form of durability is plain text. As long as computers exist, you’re almost certainly going to be able to read plain text files. Backups are another form, in a way. I use some web services now (most of them paid), but I also back up the data. My software background makes it feasible to write desktop equivalents of the online services to at least view the data in those backups, should the services end. If you don’t have that background, backing up your data at least provides the chance to use someone else’s expertise to do the same thing.
One way to find how reliant you are on fragile technology is to think about how much you’d lose if the internet went down. If you aren’t sure, just turn off network access and try getting to your most important information. Even here, you’re relying on applications that might be fragile on your computer, but most of us lean on internet services so you’ll catch a lot of it.
I’m not saying you should close all of your accounts online, but consider ways to make them more durable. Back up your data. Look for alternatives if you can tolerate them. This gets much easier once you have a home server running because you’ll have the equivalent of a web service you can access anywhere, but you’ll be in control of it.