A Set of Tenets I Have Set Myself
- If You Do Not Pay for It, You Do Not Own It
- You Have the Right to Help, Not the Right to Complain
- It Is Easier to Do Without, Than It Is to Do Away With
- What I Must Therefore Do
This is something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but if I do not commit it to bytes
then it will continue to linger, unresolved.
I know that I cannot communicate these ideals without even myself knowing that I am culpable of hypocrisy. That
said, hypocrisy is not the mere doing opposite of what one says, it is the wilful ignorance thereof. When
one sees one’s own ignorance and yet does not correct it, that is hypocrisy. I am compelled by love to
change and so I must air what I wish to be and then I must become it, even if I may appear on the surface a
Here then are three tenets I have set myself for living digitally in this modern age. They come from self-reflection
on the way the digital landscape has changed (and how I have changed) in the last 10 years. We are not living in the
same world as before and we must realise, and change with it.
Your results may not be the same, but I advise you to do likewise.
If You Do Not Pay for It, You Do Not Own It
You are the product, not the customer. The ad men are the customers of Google, Facebook, Twitter et al. You are a
number, a statistic, a collection of—essentially—SEO-spam aimed to generate “value” to these companies.
The data you put into these companies is theirs, not yours. You might think it is yours but you don’t have access
to the hard disk in their organisation where your data is stored. You cannot ‘backup’ your Facebook / Twitter,
you cannot copy it to somewhere else. You cannot examine it, modify it or do anything meaningful with it by yourself
using your own computing power. If you can’t FTP into these “clouds” and delete files then you don’t own nor
control them. Don’t be fooled by an interface.
What I will learn from this is to not use services unless I am a paying customer, accountable to my own data, and
copying data into these services rather than creating data inside them.
You Have the Right to Help, Not the Right to Complain
Where does open source fit into this? Of course you don’t pay for open source or gratis content (you don’t pay
to read this website for starters), so if you don’t own it who should you pay? The fact is that content provided
under a free / liberal licence is owned by you. It is a right automatically given to you by the owner for accessing
that content. For example, by reading this article (it has been downloaded to your browser’s cache), you own it.
The fact that almost every person who reads this article won’t do anything with it is by-the-by and not my
problem, but the fact remains that by merely accessing the article it has become your personal property to do with
as you please within the boundaries of the
licence and the law (e.g. fair use).
The substantial cost of content
that is given to you under such free / liberal licences
has been paid for you. It is my
recommendation therefore to pay back such acts of kindness with either contributing meaningfully wherein
your capability (submitting patches, filing bugs, suggesting ideas or sending a thankful e-mail) or where not
possible or not within your capability, making a donation, or in the case of shareware, buying a licence (even if
it’s not required of you)
I am very guilty of complaining. It is far too easy to complain about something which you paid nothing for because
its value to you is based on its practical use (does it work?), not on an agreed standard of value—money—that
is, “I paid for this and it doesn’t do what it says” vs. “your program sucks”.
The advice I am giving and will be following is—where possible—to be careful and attempt
to avoid receiving new things without first being prepared to give.
In practical terms, this means limiting the amount of RSS I subscribe to and reviewing what websites I “waste
time” on. If I view such time-wasting content with the eye that I should be prepared to give something in return
for all of it (even if it’s just leaving comments), I will be more careful about quite how much time wasting stuff
I waste my time on. The idea being that instead of watching tons of crap and not being bothered to comment on any of
it, I should be watching a little and commenting on all of it.
It Is Easier to Do Without, Than It Is to Do Away With
Paying for things is a good way of determining what really matters (on a material level) in your life. Paying for
things you don’t have to, even more so. You see, pirating TV shows or films may very well get you a lot of
entertainment, but it is much harder to judge what is not important and can be lived without when you have an excess
of content that you did not pay for. Overall, I have discovered that it is better to live without most content than
to live with piles of it.
That does not mean that I am adverse to paying for value. Whereas I'm not willing to pay £20 for a Hollywood
movie on DVD, I will happily give £100 to
support someone making
stuff I want to watch (BTW, check out
BBS: The Documentary, an 8-part series on what
existed before the World Wide Web, available free—I bought the
DVDs for a friend).
Do not sign up for new services without first considering the exit-strategy
- How much work is involved in you moving away from the service?
- Will you be creating data within the service?
Services for which you cannot choose to pay are the ones to be most avoided
Do not ignore your right to choose and don’t underestimate its power. You do have a choice what
services you use. You are not ‘forced’ to use Twitter, Facebook or Google+. No force in this
universe lifts your finger to click the sign-up button but you, and you alone. Exercise your power
to choose to say “no” even if on a professional level it may appear to be a detriment, you
will be greatly enriched on a professional level by learning to say “no”.
What I Must Therefore Do
I have some very hard actions to face up to now.
I need to pay for my
GitHub usage. Sure it’s given to me free but if I'm not paying them, what am I? A customer?
No. I'm a free advert. It’s a really good service, but I'd rather be in a professional
relationship with companies than an informal one where they can do what they want to me and I'm
worth nothing to them (notice how companies like Facebook and Twitter treat their users when it
comes to site redesigns).
In the long term, should money be an issue or GitHub fail to serve my needs, I could conceivably
migrate to running my own git server. This is one of the good things about git and GitHub, that
the git repository is a complete backup of the entire history of the project’s code and
therefore you are not locked into GitHub in any real means, besides URLs that people link to.
Imagine if Facebook or Twitter worked like git / GitHub? You could download a file and upload it
to a different service and your entire history would be perfectly imported and preserved; but
where’s the profit in that?
I could pay for a Google apps account (it’s not expensive), but the way Google is going
(destroying the quality of their search with social-network junk) I'd rather move away from them
completely long-term. I've switched to
DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine and
fall back on Google for anything it can’t handle, but I'm inclined to give Bing a try.
Migrating away from GMail is going to be one of the hardest things to do (should have thought
about that many years ago, but there you go—we live and learn). I mainly use it because of the
superior spam detection. I may have to get used to the idea of several hundred e-mails being
downloaded to my local client and spending some time training up its filters. I aim to forward my
Google e-mail for a year and then delete all of my Google accounts.
Ah, the biggie. I have a love / hate / hate
relationship with Twitter. I don’t believe in being a digital
hermit—technology when available (even with caveats) should be used to primarily help
others. However, it’s clear what Twitter’s game is. They’ve become successful and now want
to control the market to prevent the natural technology cycle that will inevitably destroy their
I had decided to build a replacement for Twitter, but
abandoned that because I had made the mistake of being too
enamoured with the idea, rather than the execution. I'm thinking I should follow the
approach I took with NoNonsense Forum; get something working with as
few lines as possible and just polish over time, rather than trying to create the end-product from
I'll continue using Twitter in the future, but I'm going to aim to move my architecture so that
I'm publishing my data into it rather than trying to get data out of it.
I watch very little commercial TV. When I am married my wife and I won’t require a TV licence (a
tax in the UK for accessing television broadcasts which is used to fund the non-profit BBC.) I'll
be very glad to be shot of the TV, 99% of the stuff on it is utter junk. However, generally
speaking, I like the idea of the TV licence because it means that I am paying more directly for
the content to be produced, rather than paying a subscription to a cable company who has complex
relationships with the companies who actually produce and sell the content and still have the gaul
to fill their air-time with adverts (the BBC do not run adverts).
The majority of my “TV” entertainment is a few YouTube users. These independent, amateur,
un-funded, non-commercial and totally normal people with low-resolution, barely-edited videos
provide me far more enjoyment than everything commercial TV has to offer. If you’re
interested in Minecraft, then I recommend watching
These YouTube users receive some recompense through advertising, which I block on all sites (that,
and NoScript) for reasons of basic internet security. Therefore I am not opposed to donating to
these individuals, but I have decided to be much less sporadic with donations and find a good
value-measurement that I can use to pay these authors for their content.
I have decided to start out by working with a $1-per-video-I-watch donation which I will accrue
and pay at the end of each month (About $40 by my estimate). Of course it’s not for me to decide
how much money the author believes his content is worth if he were to charge for it, but I believe
it’s far better for me to be donating regularly what I think it’s worth than just expecting
something for nothing.
These tenets are not demands on how others should conduct themselves, they are my own personal
conclusions and I hope that others can look at this exercise and consider their own relationship with digital
services. It’s a proven fact that material wealth does not bring happiness and I'm pretty certain digital wealth
doesn’t either. In my opinion it is better to minimise your digital wealth so that it does not draw you away from
focusing on (and developing) a love of people.
I'll be interested in hearing your opinion on this topic. You can drop a comment about it in my anonymous,
no-registration-required forum, or e-mail