What I want From Computers (A Rant)

What I want from computers

(It’s a rant.)

As I have become more nerdy, rather than wanting the newest gadget, I have become minimalist and discerning about what I like. I know what I want out of my technology, and most of what is on the market is not what I want. You’d think that someone who was seriously considering a Nokia 3310 or some similar type of “dumb phone” would be more of a technophobe than a technophile, but that’s not so.

There are a few things that are useful about my smart phone, so instead of throwing it away, I went through to see how many apps I could remove. I got rid of a few more, and felt better.

Here are my principles about all this:

1. I want it to do what I say.

It should not have any other masters. It should not send data to anyone without my permission. If I say yes, you can report some anonymous usage data to a company that makes software I use, that’s fine. If I don’t feel like it, it should not do that.

I don’t trust companies to respect that, which is why I use local data as much as possible. I turn off location services. I minimize the amount of data on my phone, and limit it to stuff that isn’t sensitive as much as I can. Using open source as much as possible and Linux on my computer gives me a little more confidence.

For this reason, I have been doing a data separation. I have a Samsung S2 tablet that uses wifi only, and I use that for as much data as I can. At least it’s not tied to my cell service. I use it for email, instagram, a lady cycle app (Hey dudes, I’m being real. Nearly half the population has to think about these things), writing apps, podcasts.

2. I want to be able to use it how I want to use it.

Current example: Right now I’m mad at Instagram, because I can’t use it on a desktop computer. Most of my photos are on my desktop computer. I use a real camera pretty often. I don’t like using a phone for stuff. I hate typing on a phone. I find the whole thing annoying, and yet somehow people use this app enough that it’s kind of a standard and I need to use it to promote my artwork. This frustrates me, so I procrastinate about posting, and I use it as little as possible. Posting a photo from my computer doesn’t hurt Instagram, or change the fundamental structure of the system. It just lets me adapt it to my work flow. I want to be able to use the software in the way that suits me. I know that Instagram is run by Facebook, and that they are very abusive systems. But I don’t feel able to let them go for business reasons.

I miss the flexibility of a desktop on tablets. It’s hard to move data around, open a file with a different program, change defaults. The “app-based” approach is frustrating to me. I prefer more flexibility. I can’t add music to my iPhone without iTunes, which doesn’t run on Linux. This is lame and unnecessary.

And if you’re thinking I probably should replace my tablet with a Gemini mini laptop running Linux, because I clearly don’t like Android or iOS, you’re probably right.

3. It should be made to last.

These computers and phones that are made to only last a couple of years, and you can’t replace the battery, screen, various parts – it’s silly, and it’s wasteful. Apple computers have made it harder and harder to replace parts – I’ve seen that over 8 years and 4 different Apple laptops. (If I complain excessively about Apple, it’s because I am familiar with it, not because Microsoft is any better.)

The amount of resources that go into manufacturing phones is outrageous, and it’s all to fuel the pocketbooks of tech companies, that have marketing to convince us all that we “need” a bunch of stuff, that we don’t. We just don’t. Our environmental situation is becoming more drastic, and making throw away devices serves to line the pockets of Apple and Android, but I don’t see that it helps anyone else.

The reason devices get slow, run out of memory, generally fizzle out, is that they are designed to do so. Or, if we need more RAM to run the latest thing, why can’t I just upgrade the RAM in my phone? Not that parts don’t go bad, or need replacing, but one component going bad should not be a reason to throw a $700 phone in the trash and buy a new $1000.00 phone. Paying for the phone in increments of $30 a month doesn’t make it cost less, it only puts a little distance between you and how much you’re paying.

You occasionally hear of “modular” phones, which is an amazing idea. I’d love to see the Fairphone get established in the US.

4. Web sites should not use all your resources to further their marketing schemes.

I look at a web site, and it does not need to know my location, my IP address, and whether I want to sign up for email updates and share their site on facebook, all before I even see the page. I want to go back to the simplicity of web sites, where they just show you data.

5. Wires aren’t bad.

I love wires. And ports. They’re great. I love my new laptop because it has an ethernet port. I do most of my computing at my desk, so why wouldn’t I want ethernet? It’s faster. I also like plugging in mice and keyboards. Don’t have to change wireless mouse batteries, and you don’t have to fight with bluetooth connections. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Or they’re slow, and there’s that bit of delay. So I choose wires when I can. You don’t have to feel the same way, but I will always buy a device with wired capability over one that’s wireless only. And don’t even talk to me about phones without headphone jacks. Not gonna happen. Gaming equipment is almost always wired, and that’s the good stuff. It’s high quality and fast, because otherwise your character gets killed because of a keyboard delay. I’m not much a gamer, in spite of my husband’s efforts, but that’s the equipment I want.

Summary

The issue here is that the internet is prioritizing money over the user. Every angle is an element to exploit, and maximum consumption is maximum profit. No one likes it – people complain about popups, social media algorithms, spyware and spamware on devices that can’t be removed. (Why did my android tablet come with a Walmart app installed?) It’s crazy.

That becomes a larger question: how do you incentivize doing the right thing over the most profitable thing?

I think that’s the toughest problem facing humans today. It’s not a matter of lack of technology anymore. We have enough technology to do amazing things. The hurdle is how to use it wisely. Our wisdom has not caught up with our technological capability. I don’t know the answer. Do you? I don’t buy all the fancy new devices, and I make the best choices I can, but I’m just one little human, and that won’t turn the tide of the electronics market, or the balance of power.

That gets philosophical, but it’s worth thinking about, and considering how you participate in the computerized world, and how that aligns with your principles.

And, just so I don’t leave you feeling forlorn, each small thing you can do take back your own power is a positive step. Take Facebook off your phone. Buy a refurbished phone rather than a new one. Look up some open source alternatives to software you use. Sign out of Google when you are doing web searches, or better yet, use Duck Duck Go or Searx.me instead of Google. Et cetera.

It’s not all or nothing. It’s a gradual process and baby steps add up.