Digital Spring Cleaning
Published by James Gallagher on .
This article takes approximately 6 minutes to read.
I know I am a bit late. It’s summer. Nevertheless, I have taken the last few weeks as an opportunity to do some digital spring cleaning. I have always been an advocate for privacy. I believe that the internet and technology is a wonderful innovation but only to a certain extent. Some things need to stay private. That’s one of the reasons why I write in a journal. I don’t want to have my innermost thoughts saved onto a computer.
I like cleaning, both in terms of technology and in real life. I do not much care for cleaning keyboards but that is a topic for another day. What got me thinking about this was that I’ve spent the last few years handing companies my data without much thought. I’ve recently been downloading more open source software because I have realized that I don’t need to give away my data to use a quality product. Security and usability can co-exist.
This has been an iterative process. I’m discovering new topics to cover every day. I have learned that there’s no such thing as the perfect system when it comes to using technology. I will never stay fully private online. I will never be able to account for every possible vulnerability. Technology is too complex. Spring cleaning has been about bringing me up to date.
I have taken backups very seriously. I started with a simple backup setup: I’d upload all my files to a flash drive. I realized this was not enough. I had spent so long neglecting backups that I failed to consider how comprehensive my backup setup should be. I did not upload my code to the flash drive. The flash drive only had a snapshot of my files from one moment in time. It turns out I was right when I thought that I wouldn’t regularly backup my files to my flash drive: it’s quite inconvenient.
The next step I took was to purchase a USB flash drive and back up my Mac with Time Machine. I know that if my computer stops working tomorrow I will be able to get a new one and restore my data. I’m not sure if I will buy a new Mac after my current one stops working but I do know that in any case I have a copy of all my data. I am going to back up my computer to Time Machine every month. This means that if something does go wrong I’ll have a recent backup on which to rely. I have decided to be more dilligent in uploading files to my file backup: I try to do it when I can.
Backing up my code is a different story. I’ve got a lot of package files that I do not want to copy over to a flash drive every time I make a backup. I have decided that my code will be backed up on sourcehut. I wrote about this a few days ago. I am considering whether I should set up a separate VPS to conduct my backups. What is holding me back is that I’m not into the “cloud.” I like my data to stay local.
Every additional application on my computer is an opportunity to be exploited. It is from this perspective that I’ve been deleting a number of apps that I use. I have gotten rid of many of the desktop apps that I’ve never used and I have moved to the web versions of applications when possible. I do not need Slack or Zoom installed on my computer. Slack is bulky. I don’t have full confidence in Zoom as a tool. I do know that I need to use these services. I can do it through the internet instead of through their custom-built applications.
There was a time when people thought that the web browser could eclipse desktops. Computers could become just the browser. Every application could be run in the browser. This has not happened. I didn’t expect it to. What I do know is that the browser is really powerful. There’s often no need to install an application version of a product. I can run it through the web browser. So far, I have been happy with the changes I have made. It has been a little bit more inconvenient but at least I feel more confident in my software decisions.
With that said, I do believe in using apps in some cases. I use Sublime Text as a code editor. I use Typora as a markdown editor. I use these applications because they are powerful and efficient. Further, I don’t want to do everything over the internet. Most of what I do on the internet is related to either programming or work. I code locally. I write locally. I manage software locally.
I’m in the middle of a privacy audit. I do not have a checklist that I am using. I am still trying to figure out what my parameters are when it comes to privacy. I care about privacy because I do not think that technology needs our data all of the time to work. I fell into the trap that I should use free services because they’re free, without regard for what the price of those services actually means. It seems that so many companies just want data. If their services are free and they are a for-profit enterprise, you can bet that advertising or selling data is part of their business model.
I am being more cautious about what information I give out to other companies. Before I submit a web form to give away my information, I’m asking myself: do I really need this service? I have deleted accounts on a number of web services so that I’m not giving them data. I now know just how few internet services I need. I can do most of what I want to do on a computer locally. This makes me feel good because securing my computer is a lot easier than having to worry about the security of every online service that I use.
I no longer use 1Password; I use KeepassXC. I use Libre Office for text editing. These tools may not be as intuitive as others but privacy matters more to me. I like to use a computer without having to give away my data.
Where I Am Going
Backing up my data, securing my apps, and taking care of my privacy are my main concerns. I understand that I’ll always have to depend on some companies that I do not believe in. That’s the nature of working from home. My employer decides a lot of the technologies that I use. I find this acceptable because I only use work technologies at work. The trade-off between being able to do my work well using the tools that my team uses is fine. That’s why I think everyone has their own privacy and security parameters that they need to find. Mine are presumably different from yours.
Technology should serve me. I own my computer. I own my Raspberry Pi. I’m going to make sure that this is always the case. I do not want to feel beholden to some company when I need to do something with a computer.