I try and steer clear of big tech, as far as is rational. My threat model is very low risk, because I am neither famous enough to attract the attention of stalkers nor interesting enough to invite the gaze of state actors bent on silencing my dissident behaviour. Thus, I walk a line between the purist utopia of Linux running only FOSS applications and a dystopia of surveillance powered services that provide a near unlimited tool set.
In my day job, there is no line walking as my stipend comes from a typical organisation that is enthralled to big tech, and thus provides work systems that are replete with the usual surveillance suspects of Microsoft and Zoom. While I may revile the choices, it is interesting to see the latest in what this sort of tech can offer.
Though nothing of the scale or sophistication of ChatGPT, the ‘auto-complete’ functionality built into Outlook and Teams is fun to play with — if I am on a call and bored. Try only using the suggested reply function to respond to pings in Teams. Conversations can take some bizarre paths. But ultimately it is disappointing, even eviscerating, as a shorthand way of acknowledging colleagues.
I encountered this only the other day, when a colleague observed that it felt like the day had just started, yet it was already 5pm. For my classical mind, which I should hasten to add knows little Latin and less Greek, the most suitable bon mot was tempus fugit. Yet, and despite having had several years of my esoteric responses to analyse for options, the best Teams could offer was ‘Happens to the best of us’.
It is moments like this I go from delight in the money thrown into big tech and the ease of use it invariably brings, to abject disillusionment as I wonder why I have abandoned my principles of purism in tech. Better to have a clean system and simply rely on my mind for retorts and content, than mortgage my data to the capricious and acquisitive gods of Silicon Valley.
As the cliche goes, it is darkness that allows us to appreciate the light. Or in this case, if I may be permitted a moment of melodrama, by sitting in the valley of tech disappointment I can better see the sunlit uplands of possibility.
I am musing next steps. My first way choice of FOSS collapses quickly once I need to engage with proprietary tools. The second way choice of Windows has not done itself any favours of late, as Windows 11 only seems to double down on the telemetry problems that plagued Windows 10. Even my third way of Apple has begun to pall. Their new Silicon processors are truly game changing, and their OS offers a middle ground that enables the tools that are needed from time to time while making a better fist, albeit a far from perfect one, of maintaining my privacy.
Yet as Apple’s privacy respecting posture gives way to the pull of marketing dollars through making user data the product, their third way begins to fall short. It is a shame as their tech is great, and the family sharing functionality is wonderful. They just need to firewall my family’s data from the world by ensuring everything we capture on our devices — images, text, video — is end-to-end encrypted and unable to be accessed by marketers or anyone else.
Solutions like Proton provide some of the answers, but ultimately without securing the hardware and base operating system, one remains prey to big tech telemetry and data invasion.
And on that disappointment, I end here, with no fourth way to offer — yet.
I would be interested to hear about your technology journey. Are you encountering similar challenges? Have you solved for them?
Good night and good luck.
Photo by Jiyeon Park on Unsplash.