Free Agent

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I wake up every day, and there is stuff to do; things to make. I use tools to make things and do stuff, because they accelerate and expand what I am individually capable of. One such tool is the computer. I get an amazing amount of stuff done on computers, and I’ve come to rely quite heavily on them to make the gears in my life turn. Work, family, my personal projects, ordering from Domino’s Pizza — all of these things are gradually getting vacuumed up into the Internet. Ziggurats like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple squabble to own the master key — your whole life, as run by Apple. Or Google. Or Microsoft. I’m just an individual trying get stuff done, and I’ll use whatever works. It’s extremely irritating to be treated as a “thing” that a bunch of rich kids are fighting over. I got involved with these companies in the first place because they allowed me to get a lot of stuff done, but once we became enmeshed they put a gun to my head: keep feeding us your cash, or we’ll shut your whole life off. No work will get done, no books will be written, no e-mails will be sent to mom, no funny cat videos will be liked…. unless you become a piece of intellectual property owned by a bunch of squabbling billionaires. I think a guy named George Orwell wrote something about this, but he missed the capitalism angle.

As my disgust for all these companies skyrockets, I seek alternatives. I’ve become exponentially aggressive in taking ownership of my digital life, because I fear if I wait much longer, I’ll never be able to escape. Facebook technicians will break into my house and forcibly graft a device to me that announces whenever I move my bowels (and publicly shame me if my movements are not regular enough). I could become some crazy old coot and go live in the woods for the rest of my life, but I quite like everyday society. I’d like to participate in all the wonders life has to offer without being “branded” like a cow. Are you a Google Person or a Microsoft Person or a Facebook Person or a Samsung Person or a Verizon Person? It’s as gross as factory farming, except we’re the cattle.

I decided to start disentangling my life from G-Mail, once Google announced their grand unification scheme. I can’t axe it completely, unless I want to delete all my youtube videos, lose touch with people who don’t know I’ve switched emails, have every copy of my resume go to a dead email address, etc. I set up my own personal email server. It was time-consuming and difficult, and it still doesn’t work 100%, but it’s mine. All things considered, G-Mail is incredibly slick, handy, and accessible. Yet, I’ve gotten so incredibly pissed off at Google that I’m essentially willing to become an old coot living in the woods at this point. I’m a techie, a computer nut, and that’s why I was able to set up my own email (build a house in the woods). But what about everyone else? It really bothers me. It threatens to kill what makes the Internet wonderful — anyone can pile on to share, learn, and create. But now, huge walls are being built. Google and Microsoft don’t play nice; neither of them want you to leave their little theme park. So they build bigger walls, and add barbed wire. Welcome to the internet concentration camp….

There is no silver bullet for this problem. The only answer is for millions of individuals like myself to step up and clean up the mess: once I get all the bugs worked out of my own email system, I’m setting one up for my parents. Then maybe another for a friend, in exchange for a case of beer. Linux (Ubuntu in particular) is getting really good. It still needs a bit more elbow grease before it’s grandma-proof, but the days of beating your head over Xconfigurate are starting to end, and not a moment too soon. Become a free agent, or risk being stuck on the same team forever.

Categories: philosophy, soapbox

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