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The Tom + Barbara test

June 22nd, 2015 (by Steve)

We concluded on our travels that motorhome living was the simple life, but it was also the good life. We also concluded that it was a fairly “green” way of living. Sadly though, we don’t live in a motorhome any more, so we’re throwing away everything we learned about living a simple, good and green life. Nah, not really, but it turns out to be actually a lot harder to live simply, goodly and greenly (hmmm, I thought I was making up those last two words; turns out they exist already and mean something totally different!) when you’re not forced to by circumstance.

We’ve been living a fixed lifestyle (as opposed to nomadic) now for nearly 10 months again and the biggest change is that we have everything we want at our fingertips. Limitless water from the tap. Limitless electricity from the wall. Limitless internet data from the little box in the corner with flashy lights. Limitless gas to cook on. With the regular bills being the only limitation on usage, it’s so much easier to waste stuff. And waste we do. I’ve stopped brushing my teeth out of a mug. I’ve stopped boiling exactly the amount of water I need. I leave my laptop plugged in sometimes. None of these are massive crimes obviously, but as an evil giant (I jest) once said, “Every little helps”. In other ways I have changed my ways – I no longer feel the need to shower every day (and only occasionally does Kiri look at me, hold her nose and point to the bathroom), but we’re still a long way from the composting toilet and solar panels that we eventually plan to have.

chard

There are other ways that we’re trying to live a green life. Our plastic consumption isn’t quite at our Lenten levels of 2 years ago, but we always use rucksacks when doing our supermarket shop instead of plastic bags and we’re overjoyed (you can tell we don’t get out much!) that we can even recycle plastic bags and plastic film now. Recycling in this country is pretty amazing compared to some places in mainland Europe. Alas, we can’t currently recycle food waste, but we’re moving shortly to a place that has a garden, so we’ll get a compost bin on the go there, then use the results on our home-grown veg; we’ll start with chard, potatoes and herbs. Our dream is still to one day emulate Tom + Barbara, but we need to find a Jerry + Margo to balance us first… and a bigger garden.

Now the “simple” bit is more complicated. Obviously. The clue’s in the word… or something like that. We’re learning that to live a simple life you’ve got to be intentional. Life tends to get full of stuff if you let it happen around you. We’re trying very hard not to accumulate things now we’re no longer living in a tin box on wheels, but it’s necessary with a child on the way. We’re trying really hard to keep to the bare essentials and had (for example) agreed that we wouldn’t get a baby monitor, but when we were offered one, we realised that we could use it as a walkie talkie and found ourselves saying “thank you, yes please, we’d love a baby monitor”. If we were in a different season of our lives, the “tiny living” that Julie and Jason are doing would seem very attractive. But we’re not… and it’s still attractive. Could we make it work?

Whilst I’m musing on whether it would be practical (it wouldn’t) or fun (probably) to live full time in a motorhome with a small child, I’ll end this stream of consciousness that has found itself recorded in the form of a blog post by briefly talking about one other area of simplicity in our lives. Technology.

When we were living off-grid in Bertha, we could only use our laptops when they were charged. We didn’t have a smartphone. We didn’t have a TV. We weren’t constantly connected to the internet and when we were, usage was capped. And you know what? It rocked. We read books, we played games, we talked, we went for evening strolls. Since returning we haven’t gone to the other extreme, but it’s amazing how easily the distraction of constant connectivity nibbles away at other, more edifying, activities we could be doing. It seems almost too much of a co-incidence that as I’m musing about possibly introducing a digital Sabbath to my life, I find out that this Sunday (28th June) is National Unplugging Day. It’s aimed at parents, but I think that it’s a good exercise for anyone.

We’ve still got a long way to go until we’ve reached the dizzying heights of the “proper” good, simple and green life. But we’re on the path.

Posted in Life | 4 Comments »

Why I’m leaving Facebook

February 12th, 2015 (by Steve)

About 9 years ago I was a member of a few social networks… I’d picked a username and I was spending a few minutes a day chatting to random people about random stuff and playing online games. I then received an invitation for the newest kid on the social media block, Facebook; a site where some of my “real life” friends were members. And there started my journey with Facebook which is ending imminently. Apparently I’d just bought a new car.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:30:25

There are a couple of reasons why I’m leaving and I’ll start with the weaker reasoning first. I aim to live as simple a life as possible without too much extra stuff or gadgets and I’m pretty happy with my current position with regards to de-cluttering physical “stuff”. I don’t do so well though with digital “stuff”. We live in an information age where we can access almost anything from almost anywhere (apart from if you live rurally!). There’s so much information out there and I think I probably binge a bit too much on it and over-consume. Social media is great for seeing what other people are doing, updating others on what I’m doing… but I sometimes wonder if I’m so busy reading what other people are doing remotely, or planning how I’m going to document what I’m doing that I don’t live fully in each moment. So if I close one social media door, I should be able to reduce my daily information consumption.

Now, onto the main reason why I’m saying goodbye to Facebook. Control.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:28:51

I’m not blinkered when it comes to internet companies making money out of me and it really is fair enough. When I browse through Amazon’s store, they are providing me a shopping service for free, whilst having to pay for all sorts of overheads such as hosting, staff etc. It’s fair enough that they’re going to track my browsing through the use of cookies to try to suggest products that I’m likely to buy. In fact, that can be quite helpful. It’s the online equivalent of a Nectar card; collecting data on their consumers’ habits then using it to improve services and make suggestions. I’m even OK with Google tracking my moves through the web and showing adverts based on my search habits and the sites I’m visiting. It’s part of the online economy and if I’m not happy about it, then I can (and do) disable third party cookies and have my browser clear cookies when I shut it. If I really want to avoid the tracking then I can choose a totally different search provider.

When we move into the realm of online communications (as opposed to simple browsing), there’s a minor paradigm shift. I’m no longer just consuming content, I’m also producing my own content. Taking emails for example, if I were to use Google’s Gmail through a desktop web browser, relevant adverts would appear next to emails. How do I feel about that? Well, I’m not entirely happy, but I’m easily placated by the thought that it’s an algorithm that’s selecting the adverts based on keywords in the emails. Before we’d publicly announced our engagement, there were a few emails floating around with marriage-related keywords in there… which invariably led to marriage-related adverts. Once again though, if I don’t want the adverts or the tracking, then I can choose a totally different email provider.

And then we get to social media. It’s only when I came to download my Facebook data archive that I realised how much of my life is in that 70Mb zip file. The Facebook help page about categories of data they hold makes for interesting reading. From the very beginning I’ve been wary about putting my whole life online, I mean why would anyone care about films that I like? But, as a lot of my friends have been using Facebook too, over the years there have been countless events, messages, pictures and life events shared. Worth lots of money to advertisers. When I was doing wedding photography, through Facebook I was able to show an advert for my services to anyone who had shared their location as within a 10 mile radius of my home address who had just changed their relationship status to “engaged”. That’s very specific targeting, which advertisers will pay for… and it’s kind of still fair enough.

But then we get to the bit that makes me uneasy. If I don’t want the adverts or the tracking, then I could choose a totally different social media platform… but all of my friends would have to do the same. I was attracted to Facebook in the first place because that’s where there were people that I knew. What keeps me loyal to Facebook is the same thing. I can’t just move to another social media platform, such as diaspora* unless enough people move with me. And so I’ve stuck with Facebook because that’s where my friends are.

But I’ve never appreciated the way that they treat me as a supplier of my information. Over the years I’ve had to fight for privacy; I’ve regularly had to check and change privacy and security settings. Every time they’ve added a new sharing option (such as location), the default has been “on”. You can understand their business reasoning; their business is information, so sharing is good. But it doesn’t respect me as a data owner.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:34:34

The first time I considered leaving Facebook was 6 years ago, when I read the following in their terms and conditions about their data retention:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorise and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicence) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorise sublicences of the foregoing.

Now I’m not a lawyer, but in essence that seemed to be saying that I had to be willing to give up the copyright that I as a photographer own. In theory, Facebook were gathering a lot of images that they could potentially sell on in future, without giving any credit to the photographer. Hmmm. But, I convinced myself that I must have misunderstood the wording so I stayed and besides, all of my friends were still staying, so maybe I was just being overly cautious.

So for the last 6 years I’ve been using Facebook, with the knowledge that I don’t actually understand how Facebook might be using my data. I was a little surprised to find in my Facebook archive a list of every IP address that I’ve logged into Facebook from, a list of all of my previous friends and a list of previous email addresses.

Screenshot from 2015-02-12 21:36:00

One of the principles of the 1998 Data Protection Act is that:

Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes

Even if I understood what purpose they were originally holding that information for, surely they shouldn’t be retaining it indefinitely? But then again I guess the Data Protection Act doesn’t apply to Facebook as an American company.

And then a week ago I read a pretty damning article about Facebook (it’s worth a read) where I learned that my name might be being used next to promoted posts, which could be misconstrued by other people as me endorsing something that I might not ever have read. Woah. Hang on a minute, I’m not ok with that. I don’t use Facebook on my phone, so there are some things such as GPS tracking that are mentioned in the article that don’t apply to me.

The crux of the matter is that I no longer feel in control of my profile on Facebook. For the last 6 years I’ve told myself that it’s fine as I’m aware of what Facebook is doing with my data and I can set privacy controls accordingly. But now I realise that I don’t know how this private company is making money out of me. And I don’t like it. So, as Duncan Bannatyne would say, “count me out”.

If you’re reading this via a link on Facebook (which I’m sure many of you are), don’t take my exit personally. Email me, text me, write me a letter or pop round for a cup of tea. I want to maintain the friendships, but not in a territory where I don’t know the rules.

Posted in Life | 3 Comments »