Every now and then something happens, that shakes your world. Sometimes it’s a mild shake, and sometimes your world literally turns upside down. I’ve had my share of either, and I guess that comes with the territory (of being human).
A few years ago, I quit Facebook. Then I rejoined Facebook, only to quit it again a few months later. That happened about a year ago, and I haven’t regretted it once.
Having said that, it seems Facebook (unfortunately) is playing such a big role in our lives, that I’ve seen more people go than come. People stay in touch using Social Media in general, and Facebook in particular, and if you’re not on it, most people no longer take the effort of staying in touch. I guess it’s one of those events that make you see who your “true friends” are. Gheg.
Recently, my world got once again shaken when I was made aware of the existence of this: The future of Internet Regulation at the European Parliament by Aral Balkan. Go and watch it now. You know what, I’ll watch it with you, I always learn something new.
How intense was that!? Also, did you notice the video did not come from YouTube, but from PeerTube? I’ll get back to that.
Here’s what Aral points out: the business models of Big Tech, that’s Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, etc., are toxic. They exist by taking everyone’s data and monetising it. Do we know exactly how? No, we don’t. Their algorithms are definitely not open, and we also don’t know who ultimately gets access to that data (for a fee, of course). We only knew what happened with Cambridge Analytica, which, as Aral points out, only had a tiny subset of Facebook’s data, after it had used the data illegally and influenced an election (and the Brexit referendum, for that matter).
When I watched this video for the first time, I felt vindicated for quitting Facebook. I had made the right choice, even though it had real world consequences. But I believe the consequences of not being on Facebook outweigh those of being on it, even though it may take a while for this to become apparent. And there are alternatives.
It reintroduced me to Mastodon, as I’d had an account for some months that I didn’t really use, and introduced me to the Fediverse. I learned the term ‘federation’ in this context, and I have embraced it. Or, more accurately, I’m in the process of embracing it. I’m using Mastodon more and more, probably as much as Twitter, although I still don’t have a large network. And hardly anyone I know in the real world knows about Mastodon, and that’s a real shame. PeerTube, which I mentioned earlier, is also a part of the Fediverse, and it is by definition not owned by any Big Tech company. In case you missed it: YouTube is a Google product. For nearly any Social Media product owned by either Facebook or Google, there is an alternative in the Fediverse. I guess I shouldn’t even be writing this article on Medium, but instead should use Ghost. Baby steps.
So, by simply watching this video and then doing some research on the internet (I use DuckDuckGo for most of my searches) I was introduced to the world of Small Tech. Aral is the co-founder of the Small Technology Foundation, together with Laura Kalbag. Small Tech is the antidote to the illness that has taken over the internet in the form of Surveillance Capitalism. It also appeals to my geeky side.
I set out to build the Small Tech Foundation’s Prototype-01, giving it my own spin, using different hardware (to a point) and using a different solution for the problem of “findability”. I’ve called it Marvin, in honour of the universe-roaming, ultra smart robot from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who probably didn’t run on a Raspberry Pi Zero. I’ll write something about Marvin in another post. For now, it suffices to say that when you get a 502 Bad Gateway, it simply means its battery got exhausted.
I’ve also set out to use “small tech” to find my place in the Fediverse. I’ve set up a tiny cluster of Raspberry Pi’s (the Raspberry Pi 4 is surprisingly beefy) and am now learning to move stuff away from Big Tech to my own Small Tech world. I want to really own my stuff, in terms of hardware, software, and data. It’s a journey, though, because, for instance, getting Mastodon on a Raspberry Pi proved to be difficult and it remains a work in progress. My first success was setting up a Gitea server (on a Raspberry Pi 4, of course) so I can move away from GitHub (which is owned by Microsoft). There’s still lots of creases to be ironed out, for instance, how can I make sure my data is safe when my Pi or its SSD drive fails?
I love the idea of federation. I love the idea that I can still connect with anyone in the world who’s also a part of the Fediverse. And truth be told, it’s great that I can even still block those on the internet that I don’t want to engage with, as Aral points out in the Q&A at the end of the video.
Most of all, I love the idea of not being manipulated by Big Tech in order to make money (and only for a few). The internet was designed to be distributed, but somehow we’ve let it become centralised. It’s time we take it back and use it as it was intended.
My online world has forever changed.
You can now read this article from my own “small tech”: https://ghost.sndm.me/fed-up-with-big-tech/ (coming to you from a Raspberry Pi 4 cluster).