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Fractured Cortex

18 June 2017 06:44AM IRL

The problem, fundamentally, is one of trust.

Almost exactly two years ago, Microsoft Corporation acquired 6Wunderkinder GMBH, and to be quite honest with you, that should really have been the first big red flag. Microsoft kill things. Big companies kill things. They buy them because they want the IP, or the team, or the users, and once they've sucked them dry, they shut them down.

It's now 2017, and the app they bought is being shut down in favour of building something identical but slightly worse using the Microsoft technology stack. Which would be fine, if that app didn't comprise a literal component of my mind.

To call Wunderlist "an essential part of my workflow" is an exercise in understatement. Others have written about the idea of outboard brains, external thinking tools, the metacortex. They've existed ever sinceā€¦ well, ever since writing was a thing. Ever since we were able to store knowledge outside our own mind, we've been offloading it. But outboard brains that can think for themselves, not just remember? Those only really started happening in the last thirty years, and they only really became workable in the last ten with the advent of ubiquitous smartphones.

The fact is that these days we all have one of these - you just don't realise it until someone rips it away. Or, perhaps worse, tells you that they're going to take it away but won't say when.

As I said. The problem is one of trust.

I use this external mind because in some sense I don't trust my internal one. I needed that deep, unshakeable trust that Wunderlist was going to be there tomorrow in order to offload the contents of my mind there today. It doesn't matter that the service is still running and still better than almost anything else around - the fact is, I don't trust it any more. I can't put my faith in something that I know is going away. Believe me, I have tried. I have tried to cajole myself into keeping it around. "Appreciate it while it's here," or "Use this time to properly research an alternative." None of it works. At the worst possible time, halfway through a thesis, I find myself just completely at sea.

So there are two factors at play here. The first and most pressing one is to get my life back up and running again. I don't need a perfect system, but I do need one - because right now I'm just flailing madly and hoping that everything that needs to happen still happens. And that's 100% not a sustainable way to operate.

The second factor is that I don't just want to solve this problem for now. I want to solve it for all time. This has happened to me before, and my response is always the same:

I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again.

Ender Wiggin, Ender's Game

This is why I host my own blog, and my own RSS reader, and my own file sync. It's why I pay money for email and web hosting in an era where saying "I pay money for email" makes you sound like a relic from the 90s. But there's no fixing this. There's no open source, self-hosted, paranoid-hippy versions of these apps. You either sit there playing your cello while the good ship Wunderlist steams headlong towards an iceberg, ruptures catastrophically and sinks into the icy depths of the Atlantic, or you suck it up and pay fifty bucks a year for Todoist. Who, admirably, have an excellent attitude to this kind of thing.*

That's it. You've really got no other choices, at least none with any level of trustworthiness behind them. And certainly none which actually give you control over your data.

Which is ridiculous. Because when you get right down to it, all these apps have to do is keep a goddamn list safe.

Is that really so much to ask?

*You know, aside from the fact that they'd then be holding my brain to ransom.

Audience participation time

I know I don't normally do this kind of thing, but I'm curious. What do you use? How do you run your life? How do you keep track of what's going on? What's your system? What, when you get right down to it, would you be lost without?

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