It has been some months now since I decided to change my digital life and during this time, I have undergone a number of transitions. It started with the thought processes I covered in my previous article where I wanted to take some control over the way in which I interact with technology and more importantly the way in which it interacts with me.
I became a regular viewer and reader of various privacy/security based content and found myself scrutinising my every online move through the use of tools/methods such as VPNs, browser isolation, email aliasing/separation, firewall and adblocking amongst other things. Whilst it feels good to take back a greater degree of control in this manner, it did leave me feeling a little disillusioned at times. In the main, this was a process of getting used to the fact that this was very much a personal journey and that many of the people I used to interact with online were not joining me in the way that I thought.
When consulting various sources on the subject, the main tagline of advice is “stop using x and get your friends to use y”. It’s a nice idea but this did not work for me. In reality, many (not all) of the friends whom I have invited to use “y” (in this case Signal) have in the main ignored or scoffed at said invitation. I don’t really blame them. In their mind, why fix something that is not broken? After all, they are happy Whats-App-ing and FB Messenging one another as they always have been, oblivious to any reasoning as to why using an alternative might be better. I did go through a period of trying to strike up conversations on matters of privacy and security, trying not to be too evangelical about it but I quickly grew weary of the indifference and it got to the point I was boring myself. If people want to know more then they know where I am but I got used to the fact that this was my journey at this time and really, that’s OK.
I managed to maintain a fair bit of quality contact via email and SMS. I have always liked email as a medium and it has been great to return to using it more. I am now even at the point of questioning my own need for Signal as a messaging app. Apart from the small handful of people who have joined me on there (mainly for small talk), it has not brought much of value to my digital table. I am in touch with these friends via other means if I need to contact them or they me.
My point is that it’s not compulsory to replace something which you probably didn’t want with something that you don’t need. Various sources will advise that an encrypted messaging service is necessary and much more preferable to SMS from a security and privacy point of view. I use iMessage with my fellow iOS users so I am at least “covered” to some degree and the contents of my SMS comms with friends are mainly perfunctory, with more meaningful content reserved for face to face meetings anyway. It’s all about determining a personal threat model. I am a fairly typical law abiding citizen and therefore spook level anonymity is not a requirement for me. If it was, I would not be keeping this blog for example. A little relative vulnerability is acceptable, provided the limitations are appreciated. I have an increased awareness of how to mitigate tracking and keep my data/identity more protected. I have learned safer habits and gained an appreciation for the pros and cons of my current methodologies.
Being a privacy advocate does not need to occupy the whole space which Facebook and the like used to. For me, it kind of did at first. Like many people over the course of the past few months, I was spending more time at home and often had YouTube content playing in the background. I wasn’t checking my device every couple of minutes anymore but I was consuming content in other ways. The difference was, it was more educational and informative and it no longer left me with those familiar negative feelings. However, it kind of made me question the meaning of it all. At first, I thought I felt more isolated as I wasn’t really interacting with people at the same rate, apart from minimal Twitter activity. Turns out that feeling fades as you get used to returning to a more normal level of interaction. As day to day life returned to some semblance of normality and as my head cleared, I found myself enjoying the act of choosing which things I want to occupy my time with and dancing to the beat of my own drum again. I am enjoying life so much more and my interaction with friends feels a lot more personal and meaningful.
As I said, I have kept a Twitter account but even with that, I have settled into the practice of mainly consuming. My tweets are few and inconsequential and I delete them all periodically. On occasion, I have briefly entered into some online discussion before recognising certain behavioural traits. When someone insists on being confrontational and argumentative with you when you are essentially agreeing with their point, you really have to question the purpose of the interaction. I’ll keep it for the time being as I still enjoy the news feed and whilst I do see the odd retweet which could elicit a negative response if I let it, I find it easy to scroll past and forget about it. As I find myself more drawn towards news aggregators, it may be that my personal Twitter account ends up going too at some point.
I do not miss Facebook at all. On a superficial level, I actually enjoy people telling me about the various things that people post on there, from the silly to the tragic to the dramatic. From my point of view that world somehow doesn’t seem real anymore. To the people on there though, it appears all too real and that does leave a melancholy taste. I recall those feelings of anxiety, of constantly trying to somehow prove myself, fit in or keep up with others. The underlying disappointment in myself and feeling like I should be somewhere different with my achievements. My shattered self-confidence. The constant scrolling, fear of missing something. The all encompassing compulsion to connect, which only ever results in being more disconnected from yourself. The ultimate abusive relationship. There is little wonder that it is the place in which the narcissist thrives. How could I ever possibly go back to that?