Camen Design

c share + remix

A Set of Tenets I Have Set Myself

  1. If You Do Not Pay for It, You Do Not Own It
  2. You Have the Right to Help, Not the Right to Complain
  3. It Is Easier to Do Without, Than It Is to Do Away With
  4. 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 hypocrite.

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 thoughtful and attempt to avoid receiving or ‘getting’, as it were 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).

What I Must Therefore Do

I have some very hard actions to face up to now.

GitHub

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?

GMail

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.

Twitter

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 business model.

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 the beginning.

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.

YouTube

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 EthosLab, Docm77 and Zisteau.

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 kroc@camendesign.com.