A roadmap to reclaiming my attention and time
Last edited in July 2023
Table of Contents
- Introduction: what is this about?
- Programmes I use
- Journal: from 2017 to present
Introduction: what is this about?
This is a page to document my move to quit using proprietary software, SaaS, “the cloud”, social media and other similar services.
The “privacy-friendly” fallacy.
When I started this in 2017, I was seeking to replace each proprietary software (or SaaS or “cloud”) with a “privacy-friendly” alternative. However, after a while, I realised that “privacy-friendly” software are often similar to proprietary software, in essence. For example, Duckduckgo is even proprietary, like Google; a lot of “privacy-friendly” tools also are. Other “privacy-friendly” run on remote servers, etc. All a trap.
Doing things locally without the internet.
So after my “privacy-friendly” stint, I moved onto seeking Free Software alternatives and run these locally, on my computer. No SaaS, no cloud. I try to do all my computing tasks locally, i.e. on a machine I control, even some silly and simple one such as checking time in another time zone — instead of constantly having to rely on “the search engine” and the internet.
These days I manage to do my work offline. My current laptop does not have a WiFi card. I connect to the internet via an Ethernet cable when I need to download or send emails, push to repositories, download files. Then I go back and work offline. I have everything I need locally. I know not everyone can do this.
The (non-copyleft) Free Software trap.
On step further to this (that is where I am at today, as of April 2023) is to seek copyleft-licensed software, rather than just “Free Software”.
The reason I do so is that a software licensed under a permissive (non-copyleft) licence, such as the MIT Licence, can end up proprietary (some of the readers will find this obvious). As one blogger puts it: “developers writing software under non-copyleft licences are writing software that will end up proprietary”. I wonder: if one seeks to write Free Software, why not opt for a copyleft licence, knowing that non-copyleft software can end up proprietary? I might be missing something, but, the only reason I see for a programmer to do so is that one wants to attract users thinking they are (safely) using Free Software, and then, one day, making the software proprietary. That is a genuine question; please email me if you have something in mind. I might be missing something.
There is no alternatives.
Also, first, when I started, I was thinking in terms of substitutes e.g. “what tool can I use to replace Google Alert or Signal?”, but as I moved further towards using copyleft-licensed software and running programmes locally, the way I use my computer evolved away from habits which had been shaped by (the motivations of proprietary) software companies.
I found that using copyleft-licensed programmes locally, often written by agents first motivated by their own needs, has lead me to rethink how I use technologies. Thus, the mindset of “seeking alternatives” has become vain. Sharing the plain list of programmes I use makes more sense. That said, if you want see a path of my journey of letting go of proprietary software and the likes, go to the section of that post titled Journal, below.
Also: I put together a guide to help others (who writes) to regain agency over personal computing: A guide to simple and stupid usage of computers for writers (anyone who writes really) (published under a BY-NC-SA licence).
As far as I can remember: I had my first encounter with the internet in the early 2000s; with Instant Messaging and peer-to-peer networks. Back then, I owned a computer running with Windows, for a couple of years or so, then nothing until I purchased a MacBook in 2010. I got my first smartphone in 2015, the year I started to work in the software industry.
In 2019 I quit working for the development of proprietary software.
In 2020 I switched back to a dumb phone.
In 2021 I traded my MacBook for a second-hand laptop running the operating system Trisquel GNU/Linux.
I now do research, mostly drawing from philosophical works, to try to figure out concepts, or a framework, to critique digital technologies; ‘to critique’ meaning to sieve through to improve how we use technologies (not to blame or reject). I plan to publish a book.
Programmes and utilities I use
To give the reader an idea of where I am at in my move away from proprietary software, SaaS and “cloud”, it is best to list the programmes I now use (mostly from the command line):
- less to view files
- vim as a text editor
- git as a file versioning system and to track changes, modifications et cetera
- pandoc, mainly to convert files from Markdown to pdf
- LaTex to produce the layout of letters or invoices I write in plain text
- find to search for files or directories, and batch delete.
- grep to search for text through text files
- df to display amount of disk space available
- du to find out what takes up space on my drive
- openvpn to connect to the server I use to vpn
- atril to view pdf
- wc to count words in vim or other text files
- history to copy commands from the shell history to the prompt, to the clipboard or to a file
- backintime to backup my home directory
- date to check the time of time zones or to show (my) local time given a date and time of a different time zone
- keepassxc to store passwords
- abrowser to read html files (and browser the www)
- mutt, a Mail User Agent, to read emails locally and offline
- mbsync to download emails locally
- msmtp to send emails from mutt or from the command line
- msmtp-queue to queue emails to be sent later when I am online
- abook as an address book
- cvlc or nvlc to watch videos, listen to music or audio “books”
- sed & echo to edit files from the command line
- wget to download webpages or audio files to read/listen offline
youtube-dl to play video or music locally and offlinebroken as of early 2023
- diff and patch to compare, review (i.e. accept/reject like in Word) and merge file modifications
- cat to display the content of files; my own local wiki for example
- tail, head
- umount to “eject” external storage e.g. USB sticks, backup drive
- xclip to copy to the clipboard from the command line
- tar, gzip
- gpgtar to encrypt directories
- gpg to encrypt files
- apt-get or dpkg to install, update or remove programmes, or update the operating system
- awk (instead of a spreadsheet) to process text (data) or run computations (e.g. pivot table)
- bc to do simple math but I prefer to have a calculator on my desk
- apropos to find new programmes/tools/software locally (on my laptop) instead of searching the web
- pdfunite to merge pdf
- whatis when I want a short description of a programme I’ve never heard of
- man if I want to learn more about a programme, or if I need to figure our how to run a command with a programme
Other programmes which I found interest in but have not put into use: sc, a spreadsheet calculator running in the terminal; pdftotext, a pdf to text converter; aspell, a spell checker on the command line, simple scan, checkinstall, ffmpeg, which, whereis.
You can also check the commands and shortcuts I use here.
Scripts I use
- wordcount.lua to count words of Markdown files
- count-para.lua to number paragraphs when converting Markdown files to pdf with Pandoc
- a vim script to mark folds on Markdown headers by default
Feel free to email me if you have any questions or thoughts. Feedback more than welcome.
Journal: from 2017 to present
- Put together: A guide to simple and stupid usage of computers for writers (anyone who writes really); published under a BY-NC-SA licence, meaning you can print it and distribute to peers, e.g. at work.
- Sold my MacBook; it had been sitting on the shelf since early 2022 when I completed my switch to a laptop running Trisquel GNU/Linux
- Deleted my Airbnb account.
- Deleted my iCloud account I had created in 2009 when I first bought a MacBook.
- Deleted the account I had with a password manager in the “cloud”; I now use a password manager locally (i.e. on my computer only) and copyleft-licensed.
- Deleted my accounts with LinkedIn, Twitter and Signal messenger.
- Deprecated my Proton Mail account.
- Started using an email address with my own domain name.
- Switched to a 2012 second-hand laptop running Trisquel GNU/Linux as my main computer.
- Deleted the last note-taking app I was using; I had been using note taking app since 2009.
- Stopped using a Zettelkasten.
- Deactivated my accounts with LinkedIn and Twitter (and subsequently deleted them in 2022).
- Removed (proprietary) Duckduckgo as my default search engine - same as Google. I now use MetaGer, a search engine that is published (1) under copyleft licence (2) by a non-profit organisation - or searXNG.
- Buy a 2012 second-hand laptop and installed the operating system Trisquel GNU/Linux to replace my Mac.
- Ended Spotify and Netflix subscription and deleted my accounts.
- Started to send printed pictures via post to my friends instead of digital pictures.
- Stopped carrying my mobile phone by default when I leave home.
- Started using an app to start a Zettelkasten (deleting the note-taking app and stopped using Zettelkasten in March 2022).
- Started using an RSS reader.
- Started to send more (postal) letters and postcards.
- Started to send less instant messages. I call instead.
- Switched back to an old dumb phone I had in my drawer as my main phone.
- Resumed using an analog camera.
- Resumed using a dumb MP3 player where I can “drag and drop” music and audio files.
- Resumed using a pocket-size notebook and a pen to take notes on-the-go rather than using a smartphone; plus, paper and pen is best for thinking.1
- Deleted email application from my smartphone.
- Started a mailing list2.
- Limited myself to check Facebook only once a day (and subsequently deleted it in 2018).
- Deleted ‘social media’ applications from my mobile phone
- Deleted applications that use infinite scroll from my mobile phone.
- Started using Signal (and subsequently deleted my account in 2022).
- Started using ProtonMail (and subsequently deprecated it in 2022)
- Switched to Mac from Windows (I later quit using Apple products in 2022).
Pam A. Mueller, Daniel M. Oppenheimer (2014), The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, aps, Vol 25, Issue 6; Faria Sanaa, Tina Weston, Nicholas J.Cepeda (2013), Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers, Computers & Education Volume 62, pages 24-31; Anne Mangen, Liss Gøril Anda, Gunn H. Oxborough, Kolbjørn Kallesten Brønnick (2015), Handwriting versus Keyboard Writing: Effect on Word Recall, Journal of Writing Research, 7(2):227-247↩︎
Paused as of 2020; I am focusing on my research.↩︎