The Cost of Anonymity is too High

In my last post I wrote about alternatives to Google Maps. That post is inline with what I’ve written here for the last year: my attempts to get away from the big tech companies and keep as much information as possible private. After my recent trip, I decided to give up this Privacy crusade.

I came to realize I’ve been sabotaging my passion for photography. Previously, photo taking took place mostly on my Pixel 4a. Because I planned to strip the phone from anything “big tech,” I stopped using Instagram. My favorite application for photo editing, Snapspeed, is owned by Google so that became a no-go as well. I tried to force myself to carry my camera around, so I placed my work equipment and laptop in my camera bag.

Taking photos started to feel like a chore. My eyelids closed as I was reading GIMP and Darktable manuals. When I wanted to share my photos online, there was no one to see them. Carrying a sack of bricks around in the name of a big privacy experiment was one thing, but seeing my passion slowly dying away was another.

I decided to allow myself to visit my favorite apps one more time before I wipe my phone clean and go even further with GrapheneOS. I installed Instagram and Snapspeed to see if I can start breathing life again into my photography from a fresh account that is tied to my name. Now, about a month later, I’m in a very different place than I was a few months ago.

I am rediscovering the fun in photos again. More people find my photos interesting, and I’m able to edit with more tools, sometimes on my desktop and sometimes on the phone. I’m able to create content more often. It feels good to be able to do what I like.

Sure, there are alternatives. There are people who’d read this post and sing the praises of Pixelfed and the like. There are free photo editing apps, there are video tutorials instead of dry manuals.

That’s not the point.

Technology is meant to make life easier. But when I chose to go “dark” and keep things private, technology made life harder instead. Everything becomes either a compromise or a workaround. Of course, there are many free and good tools I plan to keep using, from Linux to Emacs to org-mode. That’s just it actually: instead of picking tools based on how private they are, I should be picking my tools based on how effective they are. That’s the point of using tools in the first place.

To be clear, I’m not going to give up everything. Like with anything else, the key is moderation. I’ll never trust Google (or Apple to that matter) to be my primary hub for personal information. There’s no reason for that because I’ve had my own trusty solution for that for years. I also keep my primary phone number and email address away from online apps wherever possible, resorting to using an anonymous login or even a fake one when downloading apps.

One of the most liked photos on Instagram has been my face. I don’t think there’s anything special about it, but it happened to be a good photo. People, I noticed, react better to a someone than they do to a something. The best photos and writings are those that capture something personal, a piece of our humanity. Keeping things private and anonymous strips that away.