Going Analog Part 9: Shrinking the Digital Footprint

I’ve talked at length in the deep, murky past of this blog about how shrinking your digital footprint will also shrink your carbon footprint, and how it will just make you feel better as well. (Not to mention make you a more resilient person.)

As of this writing, I think I’ve successfully dropped out of as many big tech services as is feasible for me. Most important of those, though, was kicking Google out of my life.

I’m not a fan of their surveillance, nor am I a fan of their AI research, the fruits of which always wind up being forced on us as a populace. Facial recognition, online behavior tracking, it’s all bad. All bad. So I said enough was enough, and I put my money where my mouth was.

A few years ago I successfully replaced my Chromebook with an HP Stream that I now run Elementary OS on. I stopped using Google Search, and now use DuckDuckGo. My smartphone was downgraded to a dumbphone and older MP3 player. Google Docs and Drive were replaced with Libre Office and Spideroak One.

Those movements were in a decidedly non-Google direction, but there was still plenty more for me to do. Over the past year, I’ve taken even more steps:

  • I now run Ubuntu on my primary computer, making my workflow 100% Linux. I didn’t need to pay a dime for any of my software. (Though I could, and can, if I want to donate to the freeware projects I use.)
  • Adobe products have been replaced with the likes of Krita and Gimp. Not wholly recommended if you’re a power-user creative, but it gets the job done and it disincentivises me from using digital creation methods in general, which for me is a plus. My art practice is moving toward tangibility and sustainability in a big way. More on that some other time, though.
  • After some painful trial-and-error, I’ve settled on Protonmail as my primary email service now. It’s a much more polished product now than when it was in earlier beta several years ago, and they have several good privacy-respecting offerings, such as a VPN service as well. I DO NOT recommend Startmail. Their product sucks, their customer service sucks, and it’s overpriced for how little you get. Protonmail is not cheap, but it’s secure as hell and it works perfectly.

One of the problems I’ve run into with Ubuntu so far, though, is the buggy integration with my model of Wacom tablet. I’m still waiting on a response from the people who made the compatibility software, and in the meantime I’m having to color comics with a mouse. It does take longer, I won’t lie, but it’s not as frustrating as I thought it would be due to the simplicity of my coloring style, and the fact that I do most of the heavy-lifting on paper anyways. The switch I made to hand-lettering, mind was also due to the disincentivising effect of Krita’s sorry excuse for a text editor – and now I can’t imagine myself ever going back to making digitally-lettered comics. In fact, in the future, I wouldn’t mind figuring out how to color my comics entirely by hand as well, in a reasonably quick and efficient way, so that all I need a computer for is scanning and uploading finished art!

Unfortunately, I’ve had to go back to using a smartphone since moving to Canada – my LG Xpression didn’t work with the bands up here, so I’ve been using a hand-me-down Samsung since then. It’s pretty trashed, actually, and I’ve given up on taking care of it because I just don’t care. I need access to Instagram for work, but I could use any old junker of a phone for that, and I don’t even need a data plan.

The phone I’m really interested in right now, though, is the Light Phone. It’s not cheap, but it is minimalist in a really interesting way, and the creators seem to be very passionate about the niche they’re carving out for their users. The phone is about half the size of a standard larger-format smartphone, doesn’t display images, and is fitted with a black-and-white e-ink screen. Right now, all it can do is make calls, text, and set alarms, but there’s more on the horizon as the founders of the company chip away at bugs and make good on crowd-funding promises, such as including a calculator, music player (making use of the built-in headphone jack), and turn-by-turn directions. The battery is slated to last several days on a charge, and when I asked if the company had any plans in the future to make replacement batteries and other parts available for the phone, one of the founders responded favorably. Sustainability is part of their ethos, though sourcing parts is difficult at such a small operating scale, and the logistics of making it work is something they’d like to do down the road. I just need to make sure it’ll work with Canadian cell providers!

This is also the first year that I’ve gone without getting anyone anything from Amazon for Christmas. Everything, except for a few gift cards for sites like Bandcamp, I bought in-person from a local retailer. More digital footprint shrinkage.

Sometimes, I sit and think about the facts, the statistics, the models, and wonder why I’m doing this. Why do I still care, even in the face of catastrophic climate change, of crumbling democracies, of resource depletion, of wealth distribution that hasn’t been this unequal since the roaring 20’s.

Honestly? Part of it is that it’s something to do. It’s something to stand for in the face of a planet full of deplorables and tragedies. When I scoop some package free tea out of my tin to make my morning cup, or when I score a bunch of discount produce on its way to the compost bin, it’s a reminder that I give a damn, and will continue to give a damn, and that giving a damn isn’t hard. And where it is hard, it’s fulfilling. I’m doing some semblance of the right thing when most other folks would give up and do the easy thing.

It’s often said that nothing in life will meet all three criteria of being fast, cheap, and easy. The frugal-minded will prefer to prioritize “cheap”. The convenience-minded will focus on “easy”. The workaholic or the wealthy end up gravitating towards “fast”. But “right” should be the fourth criteria for evaluation, even if you still only get to choose two.

More and more I find myself prioritizing what’s “right”, even if it’s not fast, cheap, or easy. Or glamorous.

Man, you know what else isn’t glamorous anymore? Blogging!