Essays on Technology and Culture

Rip It Up and Start Again?

I’ve been struck by a thought lately when I look at my setup—it’s too much. I want to rip it up, sell my Mac, my iPhone, my iPad, my Watch. I’d use the proceeds to buy a used ThinkPad or some other inexpensive laptop, install Linux, get a cheap Android phone, and live with the barest of the bare minimum I need to still do what I need to do with technology in my life. I’d use free software, simple, lightweight tools that do one thing well, and get maximum efficiency out of inexpensive, commodity hardware.

Then, I realize that, though I’m sure Linux has improved a lot in the intervening decade since I switched to the Mac, and that Android has come a long way, the sheer time cost of starting over is not going to be worth it. Then I start to worry about the Sunk Cost fallacy, and whether I’m not rage-simplifying because I’ve sunk too much money into my Apple setup. And believe me, I’ve sunk a lot of money into hardware and software for the Apple ecosystem over the years.

Next, I realize that my idealized world of simple computing on simple hardware isn’t as simple as I think. I rely so much on synchronization services, not just for the usual suspects: contacts, calendars, email—but for passwords, notes, photos, tasks, even backups of my digital life. While there’s options for all of these that are cross-platform, I run into the problem of trust. I’m not a fan of Dropbox, at least since Condoleeza Rice joined their board. I worry what Google is doing with my data, so I’m trying to cut ties with both of them, where I can.

iCloud is the best option for the majority of what I need to keep with me in terms of trust and reliability. Of course, to keep using iCloud, I have to stay within the Apple ecosystem. Sure, I could use the iCloud web client, but that’s not a solution. I could roll my own synchronization setup, I suppose, but that is also not a solution. I don’t want or need the hassle of managing a server and storage, even with BitTorrent Sync. I’ve had conversations with Nick Wynja about his struggles with this, and honestly, I’d rather just satisfice on something that meets my standards for trust and reliability. iCloud it is, and so we come full circle.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my Mac, my iPhone, and my Watch—though my iPad 3 is long in the tooth and doesn’t get any of the cool iOS 9 features that would make iPad ownership more useful. I’m overwhelmed by what I’m using because I allowed it to get this way. Rather than rip everything up and start again, maybe I should just sit down and selectively whittle away at all the accumulated cruft I’m using, or rather, not using. This is the sort of thing Patrick Rhone was on about back in the days of Minimal Mac. It might behoove me to go back and give the book another read.