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Author Micah Cambre
night time, city lights in the background, at night, showing a telephone post with text saying 'big data is watching you'

online resolutions

I never made formal resolutions for any new year. That said, it’s a good practice to better yourself so I think I’ll continue what I started doing last year with my digital presence.

I’m struggling to find a balance between personal privacy and being public. I don’t know where to draw the line right now. For that reason, I’ve practically given up publishing my content or data online. It’s gloomy to feel like the internet wants to do nothing more than take advantage of me. That’s where most of my thoughts go every time I want to post something like this.

So, as a continuation of a personal resolution to take back control of my digital life instead of mindlessly feeding my data into all the apps, I will do two things this year.

Hide

I began a personal quest to protect myself from services like Facebook by encapsulating how I use it everywhere. In a significant way, I’ve removed my voice from most apps and sites by participating as little as possible. I’ve removed any data I can from search engines that I don’t think belongs there. I continue doing these things like not installing Google Chrome on any computer and uninstall it from all my personal computers. Chrome is replaced with Brave Browser but I primarily use Firefox for everything now. I will continue to wind down using large companies products as I’m able to and support freely available open source software.

This all comes at a cost. I don’t have a way to privately share my life outside of some targeted private messages, calls or seeing people in person. It’s extreme and uneasy to disconnect from large parts of society. However, the more I learn about what’s going on, the more I think this active approach to privacy is needed.

Share

I don’t know how I’ll find a good balance, but I must consider that the majority of people I care about live outside of my personal physical and digital bubble. I want to be more present with life outside of occasional private messages. Anything that goes here on this website will be public enough that data aggregators can have it. I can’t control that part but I can control what I put out there.

This is a public pledge that I treat as a fun adventure to learn and help society however possible. I will live as a naive optimist that privacy isn’t completely dead, doesn’t have to be, and there’s always a good way to be online. The internet has provided so much to me, but it’s now a place that takes even more from me. I choose not to give it so much. I will continue this journey by embracing ideals of using small technology.

Inspiration

This is me reminding myself that we’re living in the best of times in human history. Even if my privacy fears are real, I need reminders that ultimately I’ll be fine. Too often, nothing is as bad as it seems in a moment. I can’t change reality but I can change how I react.

an ephemeral web

match lighting on fire

I’ve been reflecting more lately about how I spend my time online.
I think about the idea of taking back more control of my online presence.
I’ve made efforts to reduce attention and energy I give to social media.
And in these ways, I’ve never been more thoughtful of what I’m creating online than I am today.

It’s a challenge sorting out how to stay connected to people I care about who don’t understand the internet the same way I do. For the last couple of decades, my choice to live away from people I care about requires me to both make an effort to stay connected as well as participate in online communities. Sometimes that’s through social media, sometimes it’s here on my website. In fact, using this website, I’m learning how to create new ways to connect to others starting here on this site as a relationship to social media. I keep what I write here first primarily and syndicate or republish this content elsewhere secondarily. My site is my home and I want this home to contain what I create online more than I want to create elsewhere.

Lately, there’s another side in this I think about. In the last few months, I’ve had competing thoughts about this desire to post on here and in other places. These thoughts are in conflict of this need to own your own content or take control.

the web is mostly ephemeral

The need for connection is what makes the internet what it is. It’s what prompts us to browse websites, set up services, or download apps on our various devices. So often, communication on sites or services is performed in the moment. What we say, type or text matters but for a brief moment in time, as a reaction, for attention, or to provoke thought. So much of what I’ve said to others wasn’t formed but with a moment’s notice. This is true of many verbal conversations; our brains process things so quickly that we end up saying things without thinking and these thoughts are temporary.

I remember when I started using email in the 1990s (and the name included a dash [e-mail]), much of what I would get from people was forwarded emails or informal replies. I’ve even archived so much of my email since the 90s that I can review some patterns of what I used to send and receive from people. I was not aware of how much of what I sent was silly memes, jokes, poems or prose, things that were never meant to be more than just momentary. Having looked back upon a lot of that, it’s almost embarrassing what I thought was important or interesting enough to send to other people.

Even on this blog, I’ve written or copy and pasted a few silly posts that were in a similar mindset of just being interesting for a moment. I was lucky to have this platform to post to the few family or friends who would even read it. But some of these blog posts were meant to be meaningful in the moment I posted it.

into a black hole

When I look around at Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so many other social media silos, I see a similar pattern as I remember with email. There’s a lot of forwarded, reposted, pinned, replied, retweeted, and generally recycled material that has a simple purpose for those moments.

Even in forum-like places like Reddit, Facebook Groups, and Slack/IRC, I see only some value in the threads and messages that people leave. More of what I see is that immediate connection we’re looking for, a way to bond, to engage or be engaged. And at some point, this content more or less disappears from the consciousness.

In the earlier days when companies were producing instant messengers like AOL, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, MSN, and so many others, I had countless conversations that I can’t recall what was discussed. Those conversations are mostly lost in time, the recipients sometimes forgotten.

I can’t even tell you what some of my earliest posts on this website say without looking as well as what I said on younger versions of Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or Yelp. Plenty of it doesn’t really matter to me and I suspect that most people feel the same way. I’ve seen my own family use these various sites and apps to communicate and catch up on each other’s lives. There’s not a lot of thought that goes into it otherwise.

If I was to suddenly lose access to everything I’ve ever written everywhere online, the noise of forwarded posts and emails being lost forever would not tear my heart into two. In the various replies by email and text message, or posts on Facebook, Medium, Reddit, and Twitter where I’ve made spontaneous remarks or thoughts, debates, support for trivial and non-trivial, like religious or political content, there’s little or no value to much of that.

so, what does matter?

I suppose the last section sounds fairly apathetic and nihilistic. No matter what truth there is in what I’ve just said, there’s plenty online that I’ve poured my heart into and and would make me sad to lose. I’ve manually backed up or saved some of the more important things I’ve written into the virtual world or in conversations I’ve had. These are a part of my personal history as who I am and I’d lose that part if it was to disappear.

It’s gonna be an ongoing challenge for me to figure out how to choose between forever posts that I write here and in-the-moment posts, tweets, comments, conversations, and chats that I have elsewhere. Some of this might change when I can figure out a way to encrypt certain content so that approved connections will be able to read what I write. This conversation crosses into my personal privacy as well. The less I solely use social media, it’s better for my overall privacy.

Many people won’t face the same issues I do; many are satisfied posting freely on free sites or apps irregardless of what happens to what they post or who gets their data. It’s just as ephemeral as email has been. I hope we’ll continue to see effective, popular and free ways to stay connected to each other on the internet like we do now but with less personal costs to our freedoms and privacies.

Maybe the idea of controlling our online presence and posts is more popular with more people than I realize, but my personal experience tells me otherwise. We just want a place to be together, share things, and live in the moment. We have that in so many ways and it’s still working, even if bad things happen.