No, I’m not dead. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m alive, either. I’ll leave that for you to interpret as you wish.
I haven’t been able to write anything in a week. Writer’s block is hitting me like a sledgehammer, and it doesn’t really help that finals are coming up next week far faster than I can possibly run the mile that I’ll be forced to tomorrow. This is the fourth time this trimester. At which point does it go from “necessary” testing to cruel and unusual punishment?
The stars are falling out of my hands faster than I can catch them. The sand is shooting through the cracks between my fingers. And I certainly don’t have an inkling of what my future is going to look like.
But I’m trudging along. I’m still somewhere in between alive and dead. And that’s what’s supposed to matter in the end, right?
August 2016 was a weird period in my life. I was still riding off the high satisfaction of completing my first novel, The Samhain Files, and was rushing as fast as my trembling fingers could type on my grandma’s clackety keyboard to complete The White Line Fever before school started. A goal which I didn’t meet, resulting in having to drag myself through writing on the school-issued iPad with the almost draconian restrictions on what could be installed on it. (I mean, I understand you don’t want any porn or games on it… but, come on, why allow Blogger but not WordPress? They both serve the same purposes. I mean, the latter is far superior because Google doesn’t have their grubby hands on it…)
Something snapped in the last third of summer vacation. I don’t remember the date exactly, just like a lot of events I’ve found instrumental to my becoming in hindsight: the story of meeting my “waifu” in a lucid dream (a story I might have the courage to share one day), the angry rant about a certain subset of goths (that I won’t link here because Onionboy doesn’t deserve any more views)….
But I remember exactly where it was- in the purple room in my grandmother’s house, curled up on the bed with a freshly pirated book.
The Circle by Dave Eggers is a terrifying book. And I don’t mean that lightly. I’ve never been the most perceptive of sarcasm or satire, often accidentally taking things face value and only realizing it after the fact. And as I read along those few aging summer days, watching the main character Mae stumble her way up the corporate ladder, I… I cheered everything on. Supported the advances of a predatory corporation as it swallowed more and more of the Wild West of the Internet up and coerced all peoples into its net, willing or not.
And I finished the book after a few days, and I sat there like blood was dripping down my hands from a fresh murder. A murder it was- the slaughter of a long-hanging remnant of innocence, a rip in the veils, fluttering tattered in a fierce wind.
That was the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning. It’s all semantics anyways.
The school system I’d grown up in switched from using Microsoft’s products to Google’s around fourth grade- or was it fifth? I don’t remember too much, but I do remember the poorly made games made in Google Slides and the drama I still haven’t been able to will myself to forget. They never taught us to use anything else- whenever the school WiFi went down, you’d have thought that the teachers would have marched us down to the computer labs and spent a few days slaving over the aging Microsoft Word installation just to keep the show running. But instead they just shrugged their shoulders and threw more money at the already incompetent IT department.
The minds of young children are impressionable. And if you instill in them a deep-seated need for getting good grades, and then you make satiating those needs dependent on a dysfunctional system with little regard for the privacy of its users with no recourse other than to opt out of using the computer systems altogether, you set them up for a rude awakening down the road.
Either one of their beloved companies shuts down and takes all their data with them, or something they entrusted to one of these corporations gets handed over to the police in order to convict that person for a law they didn’t know existed…
Or one day they’re slapped in the face with the reality that these online services won’t last forever and that maybe having their only copy of their most precious files (or any files, really!) in one place is a horrible idea, and that they shouldn’t be trusting one single corporation with some of their most intimate digital possessions.
That’s the danger of systems like Google’s. They just “work”, pure and simple with little to no configuration on the user’s part. No installation of software, no need to keep anything up to date, no need to even have anything more than a browser on the system. (I hate Chromebooks, but that’s a story for later.) There’s no impetus to download files as backups or to create backup plans in case of failure. Just keep creating files in the same system, years and years of work poised to go down the drain with the switch of a button thousands and thousands of miles away, one single point of failure.
If Google goes down, I’ll still be able to access my files because they’re stored locally on my machine. If my machine gets borked, I’ll still be able to access my files because they’re backed up into an offsite Nextcloud server.
If both happen? Well, both of us are screwed then, and it won’t matter.
When things just “work”, there’s no incentive to try new ways of doing things, to expand one’s horizons before something breaks and the mere alternative becomes the necessary. I knew about Linux for a long time, but when the sound stopped working on my laptop in Windows mid-July, I finally downloaded my first Ubuntu ISO and started learning how to use it, not out of curiosity but necessity. (I eventually got it fixed by reinstalling the sound drivers, but by then, I’d already fallen in love with the Debian ecosystem.) And from there, I learned about the virtues of open source software, and from there… Well, it felt incredibly liberating. A system that I had complete control over and a world of software I never even knew existed to help with the things I’d always had to do by hand since Google had never thought them important enough to implement.
That’s not to say it was easy at first, or that I did it correctly right off the bat. In the beginning, I didn’t really care about privacy or the morality of the services or the people running them. I just wanted to be as far away from Google as possible while sacrificing as little mobile functionality as possible, since, at the time, I didn’t have a computer.
But school still forces me to use Google products in order to submit assignments. Sure, the vast majority of the work can be done offline with LibreOffice or on S Note (which I only use because it has stylus support for my phone), but eventually I have to touch that dreaded white login screen, so simplified it’s almost beautiful.
I absolutely hate this forced dependence. Given a few days, I could probably come up with a better system with one arm tied behind my back. But it would be rejected immediately because A) it would be almost nigh impossible for the school to spy on the students’ work to make sure they’re not exploring the ecosystem they’re forced to use, and B) they’d have to remember more than one short easily-guessable password. Boo hoo hoo, you have to learn how to not reuse your passwords across sites. Cry me a river.
(I mean, seriously? What kind of shoddy overpaid IT department sets mere lunch numbers as passwords? Or birthdays? You just get a few pieces of information about a person you hate, and then you can wipe out all of their schoolwork with no recompense for the victim as they didn’t make any damn backups.)
But then again, it’s all about the comfort of the teachers, isn’t it? Sacrifice the souls and privacy of the students in order to save a few minutes grading?
And what of my peers? When they go out into the workforce, these are going to be the services they’ll know how to use best. And they’ll stay with what works for them without so much as a second thought.
And there goes off yet another batch of lifelong users manufactured and sold hook and sinker until their beloved services sink. And I’ll still be here, typing away in LibreOffice with the status bar turned off so I can’t see the word count on whatever chapter I’ll be working on (I find that number a major distraction), ready to disappear and rematerialize at the drop of a hat amidst everyone else’s chaos.
Flexibility was supposed to be a school virtue, right?