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the feasibility of going full fedi (alt title: how to reconcile decades of reinvention)

friday 24th june 2022

i am in the middle of an absolutely radical reconciling of all my past selves. i mean this both very literally in terms of my online archives, dead accounts, and hard drives; and emotionally in terms of no longer pretending that i’m not the same person i've been for the last ten years, just changed through experience.

i've reinvented myself many times, with new websites, accounts, handles, and even a new name - but this one, i really really want to be final. i want this to stick, and to be sustainable. so where are we at? what’s the state of things?

0. preamble

so a few months ago, i finally decided i would delete my spotify. i’d been thinking about doing it for ages - i didn’t like how much data they had on me, i didn’t like that they basically pay artists nothing for the listens they get, i didn’t like how it encouraged me to listen lazily and passively through their recommendations rather than building a library of things i have deeper relationships with - so i bit the bullet and i deleted it. it was kind of scary! it felt like a really, really big deal. and, crucially… it wasn’t actually that hard. riding that high led me to…

1. the de-googling

unfortunately i am young enough that my very first email address was a gmail address, which means… i don’t think i had ever deleted a single email before this year. listening to a great you’re wrong about podcast episode recently (about the evolution of email and the impact it had on how we communicate) really brought into stark relief for me that it is SUPER WEIRD to have never actively considered how to manage this huge archive of information about myself that i just carry around in my pocket absolutely all of the time - so i came to the conclusion that i should really try and do something about it. buoyed by the success of my spotify deletion, i got to work downloading my google takeout files for every address i could remember having.

it turns out i had created over fifteen separate gmail accounts in my time - some of which i could only access after recovering the address they had in turn set as the recovery email. i was blessed in this manner that one of the accounts was my primary email for probably about eight years, so most of them linked back to this one core account. the total weight of data in the takeout files was (drumroll please) …… 160GB (100GB of which was on that one heavy-lifter). this included every single photo i took on the android phone i had when i was 15, the discovery of which was a unique punishment in and of itself. i am slowly, slowly working my way through these files, properly sorting and archiving things i want to keep and deleting things i don’t, as well as going through the inboxes to find any related accounts which i’m then systematically deleting. turns out some companies make it really, really hard for you to delete your data? i had intended to do it quite quickly, to blast through it and get it done, but some places necessitate waiting for their support team to manually get back to you and tell you what’s up - so most of these email accounts do actually still exist while i wait for that to get sorted out. it’s probably going to take a really, really long time.

screenshot of a gmail inbox with 12 emails visible, all of which are from google, youtube, or the gmail team. each has a subject line about updates to terms of service, changes to terms of service, or asiking the recipient to make decisions about data privacy. all of the emails are unread

terms (2022)
screenshot of recovered gmail account

1b. god bless password managers

i have been repeating much of the systematic deletion process with everything stored in my password manager, when i remember. this has proven to be quite successful and cathartic.

2. facebook is in everything, ugh

so after i stared google in the face, i decided to turn my attention to facebook. alongside the big clearing-up i was doing, i also finally made an account on a good mastodon instance ⧉, and had started to really love the high quality interactions inherent to such a lovely, chronological, interest-oriented, and small community. i had made a resolve to be as algorithm-free as possible, which i have largely kept. so i contemplated how to get ‘meta’ as out of my life as i could - and i started by deleting five instagram accounts, including my main one. i hit a bit of a stumbling block here - i am the admin of a large facebook group (thankfully helped out by my good friend izaac ⧉ who has been proactive in picking up the slack since my becoming less active) and i also run a facebook group and page which i have to retain access to for my job. facebook is also really prominent in my local community, so i came to the conclusion that i probably couldn’t delete my account there without at least remaking immediately for those few things - which i would have to talk my way into fresh in a lot of cases - so it’s still there. i…. don’t feel great about this. but as has been discussed in a number of other contexts - often, even if you don’t personally have facebook, someone close to you will have to, simply to access these communities which just don’t have a presence anywhere else - and my partner has been off facebook since about 2016. so i guess until those networks can move to another suited platform in their entirety, i have to keep it.

i also wanted to get rid of my whatsapp, but my work use it to communicate so it’s literally not possible. i really, really don’t like that this is where i’ve landed - but it’s unfortunately something that feels quite out of my control.

3. fixing the scrolling habit

i took a hardline approach and entirely nuked my tiktok. i felt conflicted about being on there from the very start - like doing something you know is bad for you but you’re just letting yourself indulge. thankfully i was so in the adrenaline rush of really loving mastodon/hometown that i did not look back, and it’s now permanently gone as far as i can possibly control. unfortunately, i have recently been turning to youtube shorts to fill the same hole, even though it’s way less satisfying and accurate in terms of the content it brings me. i don’t like this and will probably be taking steps to fix this too - and if i’m successful at de-googling then youtube is something i will have to accept goes with it. this one’s a tbd.

i also had an experience pretty early on of the instance my main account on the fediverse is on going down entirely. i wasn’t really prepared for how upset i got about this - it didn’t help that i was in the middle of doing some external-public-processing when it happened, but it kinda scared me. that pushed me to consider how i could bring my outputs even more under my control - what’s the minimum number of external organisations i have to rely on to have a presence online? three? four? …one?

4. the internet is a series of tubes and one of them starts in my bedroom

something which i had been toying with in the background for a while, very loosely as if it were entirely and wholly unattainable, was running a server myself. it had come up in discussion with my partner a few times as something we should probably look into, but i was imagining that i’d need some huge scary bleep-bloop rack sitting in the corner of my house, that cost thousands and thousands of pounds and was way outside of my skillset to maintain.. but i had a spontaneous wave of inspiration to see if someone had managed to make a raspberry pi do it. and it turns out raspberry pis are really, really good at it. they’re also obtainable for less than £100, so i bought one straight away (because if this worked, it would save me hundreds of pounds more a year in hosting i previously paid out to wix) and it arrived a couple of days later. within the day i was self-hosting specialdispensations.net ⧉ with semi-working TLS, so i started working on transferring my main site over too. to start with i was managing my dynamic DNS through cloudflare, but following their outage earlier this week i looked into ways i could do that myself too, so now it’s purely managed through my domain registrar. this site, my main website, and the special dispensations site are now purely between me, you, namecheap and my ISP (i have looked into ways you can do this sort of thing without even needing an external ISP, but oh wow, that’s expensive as all get out).

5. the de-googling (part 2)

so after i figured out how to move my website away from wix, i wanted to figure out how to get my custom domain email away from gsuite. i did a bit of research and found the company migadu, who do small scale email hosting for individuals, freelancers and small companies at a very reasonable cost ($19/yr for their smallest package). i did consider trying to maintain that on our pi too, but it seems like it would be too much of a security risk? please do let me know 📧 if i’m wrong on that because i’d love to cut out yet another third party, but bear in mind i’m not the most up on best practice when it comes to these things.

6. facebook is in everything, ugh (part 2) (alt title: how do i allow my practice to be interconnected if i’m cutting myself off from pretty much everyone in my irl community?)

so, the dust started to settle on all of that action, and it had been about three weeks since i deleted all of my instagram accounts except the one i maintain for special dispensations ⧉. i hadn’t had any urge to check the feed, but i also hadn’t really had much success with my OUT/WITH photography practice on mastodon. i had joined what seemed to be the most active photography instance i could find, photog.social ⧉, but hadn’t seen much interaction at all with my posts, which kinda bummed me out. i also went from having ~800 followers to having none, which was a bit of a sour note. i’m really, really proud of OUT/WITH as a project - i’ve been keeping up with it loosely since 2012 which is really the longest i’ve done anything consistently - so i posted a followers-only thread on my main mastodon profile, contemplating reinstating my main instagram account and refocusing it to be entirely about OUT/WITH instead of a combo of that project and a personal account. by the time i’d finished writing the thread i’d resolved to do it, and by the time anyone replied to the thread i was already in bed mass-archiving personal posts from my freshly renamed account ⧉.

the next problem was: how do i make it so i don’t need to post the same thing three times (three because in addition to my photog.social account, which i really don’t want to abandon, i run a semi-successful tumblr where i usually cross-post my photography ⧉)? i knew from previous experience that IFTTT doesn’t have any applets which work with mastodon, at least not on the free tier - but they are good for connecting across instagram and tumblr. some helpful replies pointed me to this python script ⧉ which can post from instagram to mastodon - so i’d found it, i supposed. with minor fiddling i got that all talking to each other, and now it’s pretty well integrated across all ⧉ three ⧉ platforms ⧉.

7. conclusion-ish

everything in point 6 happened literally today, so there’s no guarantee i won’t move to another system in time - but for now it feels more resolved than it has in a while. i’m still not really happy about having any of my stuff funnelled through facebook/meta - but while the photography community at large (and a large portion of my irl community) lives on instagram, i don’t really see what choice i have unless i truly wish to barricade myself in quite a small, loud, tower. there is a balance to be struck when creating for public consumption, and compromises that have to be made in order to reach the people you want to reach. there’s no way i’ll be reactivating my countless side-accounts, and i really hope i don’t slip back into scrolling the timeline out of habit. if you see me post a reel please come directly to my house and smash my phone, because i will be a lost cause.

my mind is really racing at the moment, in the midst of reorganising, reconciling, minimising, and just generally cleaning up my digital (and irl) life. i’m feeling very inspired, but also like i’m grasping for something to tether me down.. i’m generally happy with the direction i’m moving. but this is a very, very big job if you want to do it properly and not just mass-delete everything in a scorched-earth policy - and i’m never going to be that person. slowly, i’m building an offline, backed-up archive of my photography, my writing, my emails, everything. even more slowly, i’m deleting things from google’s servers, wix’s servers, facebook’s servers, and every random account i’ve ever made to buy a book or insure a washing machine or support someone’s fundraiser - which has got to be progress. i’m aiming for robust, for efficient, and for spiritually in-line with my general outlook, and if i squint i can sort of see it.