My Digital Life

Here’s how I organize my life, currently.

Cloud Storage

I travel a lot, so I can’t afford to bring a bulky desktop computer with me everywhere. Cloud storage is really great because:

  • It’s cheap. Hardware is expensive. Cloud storage is “leased”, taking the cost of the hardware out of the question. In addition, cloud providers are skilled at managing storage more efficiently. They know the market, order in bulk, hold manufacturers to higher standards, and use sophisticated software to get the very best efficiency out of their hardware that they can.
  • Maintenance. Disks fail. Statistically, some fail early. Barely anyone has a coherent backup plan. If you do, it usually requires yet another disk to be purchased. When disk failure or upgrade does occur, barely anyone has a reliable migration plan. Cloud storage providers have full time staff dedicated to ensuring your storage space has near perfect reliability, indefinitely.
  • Accessibility. Storage is usually attached to other devices, such as an iPhone, or a PC. In order to make use of the data, it must be copied from device to device. This takes a lot of time and no one wants to do it anymore. Cloud storage providers have intimate knowledge of network infrastructure and have built their datacenters in a way that makes access through the internet the very best it can be. Limited amounts of content can easily be synchronized locally for offline access.

You can get 100GB of Google Drive space for $1.99/mo, or 1TB for $9.99/mo, and paying annually offers a 17% discount. iCloud also offers competitive pricing.

Sometimes I hear people voice privacy concerns. While you should definitely be concerned about your rights, because they are indeed under attack, cloud storage is an entire industry with a very real purpose (utilized equally by the technology industry, as well as the public), not some scheme concocted by big brother to get claws on your data.

Music

Music is something I care a lot about. There are some great services out there, but it’s my opinion that right now the offerings are just not mature enough. I still consistently find things I want to listen to aren’t available for streaming or digital purchase. Quality is also sometimes lacking. Then again, I have eclectic tastes.

In general, I try to go about things in this order:

  1. If it’s old, and I can’t get a digital copy, I go for the hard copy CD, rip it as a high quality MP3 and put it on my cloud storage. I use Cloudbeats on my iPad or iPhone to listen to it directly off of my cloud storage. Another great alternative is Plex, which organizes your entire media library from multiple sources and streams it, although it requires a bit of technical expertise to set up.
  2. If it’s not mainstream, I try to buy a digital copy directly from the artist. They usually have their own website, or a microsite somewhere like Bandcamp. On Bandcamp, once I buy it, I’m granted unlimited rights to download it, usually in multiple formats (flac e.g. cd quality, mp3, etc.), so I download the high quality MP3 and stick it on my cloud storage.
  3. Lastly, I will try to get it on Amazon or the iTunes store. Amazon provides a streaming app, Amazon Music, so I don’t have to download it and put it on my cloud storage, but I usually do anyway because music tends to be small, and I like it in one place. If you buy most of your stuff on Amazon Music, this is an added bonus. I’d recommend this over something like Spotify, because you have more control over what you get.

If you’re a casual, mainstream listener, you’re probably good with Spotify. Amazon is now offering a subscription music service as well. My problem with both of these services is their limited library.

Books

Books are small and come in a limited number of formats, so it’s usually pretty easy to find a digital store that will sell them. The Amazon kindle store is good, but it’s sometimes necessary to go for a hard copy.

There are a lot of book sites out there on the internet with significant offerings. I’d encourage you to look around and see what’s available. In addition, hard copies of a lot of books can be dirt cheap from third party sellers, or on Ebay.

A hard copy book is a nice thing — it’s light, feels good in your hands, has a distinct smell, etc. This is one of those areas where I actually kind of prefer the real thing in a lot of cases. I still buy a fair amount of ebooks so I can read them on my iPad (mostly newer stuff).

That being said, I travel, so hauling books with me just isn’t an option. Unfortunately, the digital age leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to reading. Hopefully this will improve with time.

Videos

I like to buy my movies and shows on Amazon Video. Their streaming apps for web and iOS are really good, and the videos tend to be high quality. Unfortunately, often some titles simply aren’t available, in which case you buy a hard copy.

This is one area where I consider purchase of a video as “extra cloud storage”. Digital copies of movies tend to be fairly large, so it actually makes sense financially to let Amazon store a copy for you, rather than having it on your cloud storage.

On the other hand, I don’t care much for streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Personally, I find it sort of depressing to have it dictated to me “what I can watch this week”. My time, and yours, is valuable. I want to watch what I want to watch. Also, these services usually are filled with trashy melodramatic junk. I’d take individually authored YouTube content over vampires screwing each other for 80 million dollars, any day of the week.

A surprising lot of old video content is available for free online these days.

Life

One area I am really concerned about is what I’ll call “curating my information stream”. Mail, calendars, TODO lists, etc. I’m sure you have your own solutions that work just fine. But how do you consume news? How do you decide what you’re going to invest your precious free time in on a given day?

Twitter and Facebook leave me a little bit frustrated. I find myself spending my time looking at things that other people want me to see. I’ve grown increasingly agitated about this problem, and decide to do more work to curate the information I see.

I’ve started by deciding what each service is going to “mean” for me. Facebook is nice if you want to maintain personal relationships, but I don’t need a constant stream of other peoples’ personal news in my life — so, I’ve decided to either unfollow everyone except a select few, or use Facebook solely for personal news. Since I like the site, and how it presents information, I’ve opted for the former. When I want to catch up with my friends, I simply go to their wall and read. It’s a choice, rather than something that’s forced on me.

So much content is available on Facebook. I follow the New York Times on Facebook. My favorite music artists announce their concerts on Facebook. When new indie games I want to play come out, I find out via Facebook. Even the events I attend are planned on Facebook. Facebook is, in general, becoming more like “your life stream”. I’d highly recommend that you take the steps you need to curate that content, because it’s a highly efficient means of organizing your life and what comes into it. You don’t want it being dictated to you by someone else.

That being said, Facebook is a little intense, which is why these days I tend to spend more time on Twitter. When I am commuting, it’s a perfect time to spend a few minutes flipping through my Twitter feed. I curate this information much more strictly, and it’s purposely kept concise by Twitter. In addition, Twitter isn’t polluted by your personal relationships and all the guilt and obligation that comes from feeling like you’re in a community. I recommend it.

Another area that’s important is bookmarking and saving things for later, or pursuing ideas or interests that I have. For this purpose, I’ve started to use Google Keep more and more. It doesn’t do everything I’d like, but it’s like a brain dump platform where each thought can be labeled with tags for later searching. Apps exist on iOS and Android, and the web interface is good too. Google Chrome has a nice plugin allowing me to “Save to keep” rather than bookmark a page, which I’ve increasingly been doing.

I want to say it’s important to stay curious — stay learning, keep experiencing things in your life. That’s why I think it’s so important to manage information from these sources well. They can be an invaluable tool, or a dreadful curse.

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