It’s great when you find something that resonates, like this article I just read. It brings to boil core points about digital well-being that have been simmering in me lately. The Verge author, David Pierce, talks about journaling in Day One and note taking in Obsidian - just like I do. But more important are points about trust, convenience, and the trade-offs of cloud computing.
“As more of life moves online, we’re being asked to give more and more of our time, attention, and information to digital services. In return, we get a wealth of convenience…”
I wrote recently that the biggest benefit of cloud computing is really nothing more than convenience.
“In this digital world, are there any spaces left that are just mine?”
I’ve thought more and more about storing things only locally (like we all did before cloud computing). It’s still a feasible option today. Just because a device is connected to the internet doesn’t mean you must store all your personal or private data in “the cloud” on someone else’s hard drive.
“Can I have all of those modern conveniences without constantly being asked to share, to socialize, to upgrade to the enterprise plan?”
One thing I’ve had to accept when moving data out of iCloud, going local, is that my digital life may be a little less convenient. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s worth the trade off. I gain more direct control over my own data and reduce dependence on a for-profit business. Bonus: it can also mean one less subscription fee.
This minimizes the excessive trust I’ve placed in a single corporation, which can change for the worse or cease to exist altogether. This is partly why I’ve been decoupling from Apple lately. And speaking of a company suddenly ending, look at DPReview, which after a quarter century is being deleted from the internet by its owner, Amazon.
We too often underestimate the true cost of convenience.
We take risks with our data, entrusting it to others who only have our best interest in mind in so far as it profits the company’s bottom line. So while your personal and private data is precious to you - like irreplaceable photos - that data will never be as precious to a capitalistic corporation that has zero personal connection to said photos. Your images and memories only matter to a company if they somehow align to its revenue stream.
The internet is useful for sharing public information, but it doesn’t need to store all your private data. It’s safest to assume that any data you upload is public - even when it’s meant to be private. The most sensitive data - passwords - can be hacked, like with LastPass.
Journaling with Day One, which has been known for being serious about security and privacy by way of data encryption, has finally broached using a web app in a browser to record your most private thoughts. That’s certainly convenient, especially if you use a PC. But Day One lists several caveats to consider, which clearly shows one must trade off or risk security and privacy for the sake of gaining some convenience.
“Keep in mind that some browsers and browser extensions can compromise security in a number of ways.”
- Day One
Day One then lists several things to consider - risk assessment. Are you willing to potentially compromise security and privacy for a little convenience?
I used to keep my journal entries in my notes app. Then I moved them to Day One. But now that I’ve switched to Obsidian for my notes, I’ve been considering also moving my journal entries into their own vault there. I would need to give up some nice features from Day One. But I would gain the benefit of all my journals being simple text files in a simple folder system - no export ever needed.
Like the author of the Verge article said, I need “to decide which compromises you can live with.”
“The note-taking app Obsidian, another Personal App I’ve come to like, tackles the problem a bit differently…when you first install it, it’s really just a simple text editor on top of a folder of files on your device.”
This is exactly why I switched from Apple Notes to Obsidian. I’ll never need to export my notes from Obsidian. By default, they’re just text files on my local hard drive; they’re not kept in a proprietary data silo or app container. Obsidian references the files and doesn’t copy them into its own library.
Optionally, I can sync notes to my phone via Obsidian’s own solution, or I can use one from “Big Tech” like OneDrive, iCloud, or Google Drive. There’s also DropBox, Syncthing, or whatever cloud service I choose. Or I can trade off that bit of convenience and only keep my notes on my local device. Plain and simple.
“No app is forever, and my journal entries and notes need to outlast Day One and Obsidian.”
Being wary of “the cloud” overshadowing your digital life can help you avoid unecessary risks. Trading away the convenience of cloud computing and relying on local storage brings a highly valuable virtue besides safety or privacy: simplicity. It’s simple to keep local files in a local folder system. They’re easily accesible, directly tangible, and always available - even offline!
While default cloud sync solutions have become easier to use these days, the general framework is still complex as it uses multiple energy-hungry servers in data centers with your files and info zooming across the web, always in need of a wi-fi signal.
In contrast, old-school local storage is simple: no internet required. The most cumbersome example I have is still easy enough: moving all my Nintendo Switch media to my Mac. The Finder on Mac won’t/can’t recognize the Switch. So first, I connect my Switch to my PC via cable and transfer the media files to a folder. Next, I move that media onto a flash drive that works on both PC and Mac. Then I move the files from the flash drive onto my Mac.
Getting my photos from either my iPhone or my Canon camera onto either my Mac or PC is likewise simple, using a cable or USB card adapter.
These old-school workflows are easy. I have the benefit of all my data staying local for full and private access. I don’t need to pay for cloud storage. And cloning or backing up is as simple as a copy/paste onto another local drive.
If I really want all my files on all my devices, I can do that. The only real trade-off is that doing so isn’t automatic, and the files are not always in sync. But that’s easy enough to manage.
We relied on local storage; it was fine. Then cloud computing took over. The convenience of it made the cloud seem indispensable. But its benefits clouded the fact that we must trade off a level of security and privacy. Yet we don’t have to.
A mixed approach, relying more on local storage and less on the cloud, is the best practice moving forward.
What do you think?
And for more on this topic, check out this related article.