Sat, 8 Dec 2021
Likely you’ve forgotten my number and that’s why you’re here.
Seeing as you’re here, linger a moment and let me tell you about happiness and privacy.
I promise to make you less bothered, safer and (with your help) substantially happier with some simple, immediate and practical advice.
I’ve trusted you with my home address, trust me with 20 mins of your time.
A Stoic Argument Against ‘Privacy’
No doubt part of you is mildly alarmed that I’m so open with my details. ‘Isn’t it dangerous putting all this information out there?’ The short answer is No. Take my advice and breathe free air friend! I hope, for your sake, to prove this to you. But first, I must put your fears, if not aside, in their proper place.
One should be closed to companies and governments and criminals and nuisances (sure) but not at the expense of closing yourself to friends, old or new.
The Anxiety of Openness
You are unconvinced of my philosophy, and rightly so, I have not proved anything. Before you can really hear me, I need to deliver you from your fears. So, let’s dispense with the worst of them with practicality and common sense.
A Stoic (like myself) would advise we take our fears seriously and consciously, lest they take control of us. This is almost common sense. We might imagine the worst, prepare for it and, that done, let go of our fear… The advice, and mine, is to be less afraid, less anxious and freer— we must first feel more afraid, more anxious and (briefly) trapped. Trust me, it will only hurt a little and you’ll be better for it after. Like ripping off a bandaid to avoid an infection.
For argument sake, let’s say there are genuine monsters out there. Really bad ones. Omniscient phantoms with infinite resources. The ghost of Christmas past is listening to your clicks and watching through your camera and has no intent other than to nudge your life slowly and silently and surely toward a tragic mistake and thence to misery. The situation could not be worse, most tragically because you are hopelessly unaware. Let’s say this is in fact the case. Such a spectre will find you without google search and find me without this page. Hiding my address or my phone number will not make a whit of difference to the great malign invisible, ever. The attempt to hide will only succeed in making life difficult for you, now my dear dear anxious friend. In between then and now, we will pointlessly worry.
The reality of our situation might be worse. It’s 2021 as I write this. Scammers, Advertisers and Vote Riggers are waist-deep in your data now, have been for years, and will continue to be so. Every time you have used a seemingly ‘free’ thing you gave it away. Nothing is for free. ‘free-but-for-profit’ is not free. If a product seems free, You are the product. You have been sold to one/some/all of the following: Sam the Scam(er), Al the Adman and Vlad the Vote (rigger). Wisdom says that to whatever degree this is true, you need to accept it, and deal with it.
It is at least silly, at worst dangerous, and certainly unwise to believe openness is the problem. I’ll sadly inform you that it’s too. late. for. that. It’s a silly thing to believe that in this day and age, you can hide these basic details from anyone mildly motivated. In fact, it’s dangerous believing that (say) your phone number is a fact about you that matters in the first place.
Perhaps this is not controversial for you. Perhaps I’m not telling you much more than you already know. Perhaps. I suspect you have not done much about this because you don’t know quite how…
WARNING: Protips ahead. Fear much now but Fear not again! I’m here, and here to help! The following are my recommendations for some easy fixes for your digital life.
Then with your fears and annoyances, as put aside, as they can be, I will argue with you, for your, happiness.
20 minutes to Freedom
Substantial Freedom from Spam, Scam and Surveilance
(1 min) First and foremost, help others and do your bit for democracy. Vlad the Vote Rigger is a dick and you should support the peeps keeping an eye on him: the Advertising Observatory has a thing for your browser. You can trust them. The Observatory is run by some nice engineering nerds at a University with support from a grab bag of non-profits you’d like, and the real-life Newspaper that inspired Superman/Clarke Kent’s The Daily Planet.
Next, help yourself out and switch to software that is meaningfully free because it is non-profit. It is common sense that a for-profit will always have the temptation to sell out, sell you, and sell you out. So, switch to these Open Source options.
- (2 mins, 4 clicks) They have your data, why give them more? #ComeToTheDuckSide young Jedi. Leave Google for the Anti-tracker Search Engine DuckDuckGo. Make sure you install their anti-tracker plugin for your browser to keep blocking Al-the-Adman.
- (3 mins, 5 clicks) But they have so much already. Yes, yes they do. Why let them use it? Install this non-profit Advertising Blocker, AdBlock Plus. Why this one? I’ve used it for almost 20 years. This one has stood the test of time with only one concession: they allow text-only and un-intrusive ads. If you’re a purist you can even turn this off. If you’re a pure purist (with 2 mins more) you can use double down with uBlock (Firefox, Chrome, Opera). I use both.
- (7 mins, 20 clicks, 40 keystrokes) You want your anonymity? Do it properly and disappear in the crowd with a VPN. Use this free swiss option, ProtonVPN. Why? It’s the safest, cheapest and fastest. If they have ulterior motives, it’s to do with giant magnets: Their day job is smashing protons together to see whats in them at CERN.
- It’s not widely known but has always been the case that Physicists have the biggest-baddest internet connections. They need to trade Petabytes of data from their experiments and observations. Typically 10,000x of what would fill your laptop. So they have to have some big internet pipes nearby. So. Protonmail is fast.
- They are also (IMHO) cool. As a claim to fame Proton comes out of the same labs that previously invented the web. If you want to support them to cover costs (for like $5) they also offer the worlds best secure email, calender and cloud-storage. You should do this. a) because Non-profits are not free to run, and b) you want them to have some kind of financial interest in you. At least as a principle.
- As a kicker you can also unlock all the cool movies and TV from American/European on Netflix/Disney/Amazon/HBO et al
- (3 mins, 10 taps) Secure your texts. Don’t send another SMS, send a Signal. It’s the gold standard and is widely used by diplomats, military, journalists, democracy activists, even terrorists. If it’s good enough to protect them against the world, it’s probably good enough for humble old us.
*Also, the phone calls are much clearer than you’ll get from a phone company simply because it uses modern data and modern protocols. Get your nearest and dearest onto it too.
- (5 mins, 15 taps) Secure your internet messaging and group chats with an actual and actually secure private messenger. Forget
Facebook Messenger/WhatsApp/instagramwhich are neither secure nor private, no matter how much they protest. (How could they be, all three are owned and funded by Facebook advertising.) Instead use Telegram, “The messenger that stood up to the Kremlin– and won”, (Washington Post). Secure AF.
*Also, has the best gifs and stickers.
There is one free-but-for-profit thing that I recommend. Screen out scam phone calls with Hiya. They aren’t as pure as the driven snow: they preference big corporates (boo!) however, they are pretty great at catching scams and spams (hurrah!)
On the Wisdom of Openness
That’s all the practical advice I have, and it will leave you less hassled and safer. This pleases me immensely. But, I don’t merely want you to avoid annoyance, or latent anxiety. I want you to be substantially safer and substantially happier.
There is a bigger and much more important question here, and perhaps the true source of your original discomfort at my seeming openness might be “Is it dangerous to live a life of openness?” To my mind, it’s the safest choice. I think Aristotle is right (if a little dark) that “the antidote to 50 enemies is one friend” If he is, in fact, right I’ll add that with those particular odds you should keep an open door to your life unless you think more than 2% of people you meet are actively out to destroy you specifically and personally.
I’ll further add there is a real feeling of freedom that comes with being open. It feels good.
My worry for you is that being too private will make you unhappy; at the very least you could be happier than you are without this hesitation and I intend to cure you of it. You see friends are a real joy in life, one of the greatest, and one that modern life has taken away from us piecemeal over the centuries. If being locked down has taught us anything, it should have taught us that our friends are important. My advice in this regard is that you should, at the absolute minimum, be easy for your friends to find.
The difficulty is, that it takes some getting used to. It is naturally discomforting to reach out to another person. This is a real, a genuine and a very substantial problem– for every person ever. There are all manner of reasons for this (e.g. bad personal experiences, or a historical/cultural trauma) but let’s not intellectualise to numbness and avoid the issue. It’s at least uncomfortable, but I will say that taking the task of finding our way through our feelings has the precious reward of a daily experience of lightness and freedom. It is a worthwhile project to set for oneself.
That being the case, the human all-too-human anxiety of reaching out being a genuine obstacle, I will not make it one moment harder, for anyone, including you to reach out. This is why my details are here, for anyone, and for you specifically. right. now.
More than the apps, I recommend this attitude: That of openness. It is not trivial to find, but I assure you that it is worth it.
If you’ve read this far, I’ll also ask you to practice. To reach out to me. Like…… right now. A postcard or a physical letter would make by day, (it truly would,) but anything will do. Take your pick. To make it just one wiggle more comfortable, I promise not to reply right away.