Been away from this sub for several months. I first became very concerned about my online privacy many years ago, when Snowden’s revelations about the true nefarious nature of government surveillance came to light. I deleted my social media accounts, etc.
As the years dragged on, I became even more paranoid and scared. I told friends I didn’t want to use messaging apps that I didn’t trust or SMS because it was unencrypted and leaves a record with the carrier. I asked people to switch over to Signal, but very few did. I started wearing a surgical mask in public because I feared the cameras watching my every move. I would snap at people who asked if they could collaborate on a document with me over Google Docs because I refuse to let my computer touch any Google domain (thanks PiHole!).
Slowly and surely my relationships faded. People didn’t want to accommodate me anymore, despite my pleas that they were giving in into the corporate surveillance. I became convinced that they weren’t friends worth keeping, because they had become slaves to the system while I still had free will to disassociate completely from the ruthless surveillance system which companies like Facebook and Google have created. I became more cloistered, only going out to buy food. I requested to work from home more, a request which my employer granted. As my paranoia deepened, and seeing that I had few people besides my boss at work to even contact anymore, I ditched my smartphone, which was a Pixel running GrapheneOS. I started asking my parents to write letters to me instead, because I didn’t want the government listening in on my phone calls.
Ironically, in avoiding slavery with our modern surveillance society, I became a slave to my own mind and dogmas.
Eventually I had enough. I decided to start seeing a therapist. She was very good, asked many Socratic questions about why I was so paranoid about all of this stuff. Through working closely with her, I realized that my maximalist approach to privacy was not the right solution for me. The government isn’t out to get me. As nefarious as online corporate surveillance is, it really only exists to serve targeted advertisements. I stopped wearing a ridiculous face mask in public and accepted that I couldn’t convince the world to switch to Signal. I started going out more again. I dropped my dumbphone and got an iPhone because it offers the best balance of privacy and usability for me. I became less dogmatic about only using Signal – if I am communicating with someone on where to get lunch, it’s non-sensitive enough that I could use SMS for it and the cops won’t come out to get me because I haven’t done anything wrong.
Ironically, throughout my experience of living “semi off the grid”, I had forgotten the number one rule of privacy – a proper threat assessment. My threat matrix did not warrant a maximalist approach at all.
I hope you all enjoyed this post and realize that the maximalist approach to privacy isn’t often always the right one, and that we all have different goals and aims with privacy. Some people treat it as a game of how much technology they can live without. Some people treat it as a way of extending their technology skills. Some people have legitimate reasons to be concerned about their privacy.
That said, we should always be aware about how powerful technology can be. It can be used for both good and evil, and unfortunately you can’t avoid it if you want to be a functioning person and not be ostracized by the rest of society as I was.