When I think about a "minimal daily life" computer, often looking back to the last non-PC pre-Internet machines like the Apple iigs and the Amiga, it rapidly becomes apparent how a "minimal daily life" machine doesn't even fit the metaphors of those machines because they were tailored to be *part* of daily life and not *the center of* daily life. 2/
Consider, for example, how seamlessly we consume digital images today. You're probably looking at my userpic right now. Many older machines had image viewing as something separate from communications, in part because sharing pictures was a less common use case. And why wouldn't it be? Nobody had a digital camera, so at best, you might be able to scan photos and share them. This was not super common, though 3/
No, if you wanted to share pictures with a friend, you probably got your old film negatives and took them to the photo lab to have duplicate prints made, and you mailed them. Sharing pictures meant leaving the computer, not using it. 4/
This was basically all media. You might hear on usenet or a mailing list that Cocteau Twins has a new record out, and maybe on the early Web you might even read about it there (maybe even with an image or two to go with it), but you'd still have to go buy the album or CD and listen to it on your stereo. Again, you'd leave the computer, rather than use the computer, to appreciate most music. 5/
This has had a profound effect on how the relationship to the music works, too. Before the rise of digital music, I (and I suspect most people), knew musicians by their albums and singles. Now I rarely even know when my favorite bands drop a new record and, if I do, it's because I see a track posted on YouTube. Many artists don't even waste their time with full albums any longer 6/
I could go on and on. Movies? Leave the computer. TV? Leave the computer. TTRPG night? Leave the computer. Talking to friends? Leave the computer. 7/
PCs basically started as personal management machines, improvements on the typewriter, educational curiosities, and lightweight games devices. It's only as methods for getting email, usenet, chat, and information over a phone line became more common, that we started to think of them as devices for communication and sharing. 8/
And this traffic was often insecure and unencrypted not only because encryption's expensive on old hardware but also because the need was less. So someone read your worthless opinions on the first season of The Simpsons. So what? And even if you did do a little banking, stock trading or ticket booking online, who was going to hack you? Being man-in-the-middle on a phone line requires wire tapping and computers were rare so an attacker wouldn't get a big score 9/
Our need for encryption grew as our lives, and especially our commerce, migrated into always-available links that were easier to exploit. Now, because our lives are through our computers and not around our computers, our options for "minimal computing" have changed. 10/
The first, obviously, is hipsterism. It's possible to choose to reclaim old aspects of life from being done through the computer. This is interesting, but I'd claim can't lead to sustainable projects, because it's a curiosity by design. Hipsterism basically ditches its aesthetics the moment it becomes "necessary". Most hipsters of any stripe, including me on my pretentious days, know the "real world" is ready to catch us when our pretentions fail. 11/
The second, just as obviously, is marginality. This is basically hipsterism without a backup plan. It's intentionally throwing yourself, and likely your family, down the "wrong side" of "the digital divide". While surely those who'd do so would be the most invested in the projects to make technology useful in minimal ways, I strongly doubt there's sufficient critical mass to form a workable community with workable solutions. 12/
The third is to interrogate the current state of what it means to be de facto forced into living life through, rather than around, your computers, and to find appropriate minimal, open, humanizing technologies that meet this model where it is. 13/
Even our modes of software development now reflect this change in social relations to the computer. The "package manager" model of downloading gobs of dependencies subject to rapid version updates would be untenable in a world of slower transfer speeds, episodic connections, and longer delays community interactions. 15/
In practical sense, I guess this is all making me realize that looking to the 80s or 90s for inspiration of "the simpler but practical life" is looking back too far. The shift started in the late 90s, was mostly underway by the early 00s, and was well and truly done by 2010. 16/
This long ad hoc musing basically brings me around to this question. I'm writing this on my 2014 Thinkpad that, curiously, I can still run my personal and professional life from. I even DJ sets on it without any problem.
For modern living where you've still got to connect to the world, is this basically it? Is this the daily driver and we can do no better? 8 year-old hardware, Linux, i3, and modern apps? I'm wondering if perhaps it is. 17/17
@roadriverrail I'm daily driving a 2012 macbook pro running manjaro and gnome (sometimes KDE Plasma)
it can barely cope with steam link.
My university laptop which I used to run multiple virtual machines on only has two cores and 2GB ram and can't keep up with the web any more.
So, yeah, maybe.
@M0YNG I guess the thing that makes me a bit sad is that, at some level, it means this is what we're stuck with. It's like a technological version of capitalist realism. We can't imagine alternate technological worlds because we're required to engage with the one we have and with it comes a vast list of social dependencies.
@roadriverrail and they aren't even ones we have control over.
sure, you can (and I do) opt out of using certain platforms, but that also opts you out of the social things enabled by those platforms.
you can (and I do) engage in alternatives (like mastodon, linux, gemini, etc.) but that means you can't just go and buy it.
@M0YNG Indeed, these are two examples of marginalization and hipsterism. At least Linux has progressed to a point where it can join in on technological capitalist realism so I can use it every day. 25 years ago, when I first installed Linux on my desktop, you had to dual boot with Windows because there were often things you just couldn't do from Linux yet.
@M0YNG And as for Mastodon, I've tried apps to use it from a terminal. In order to handle the 2FA on my account? Needed a standard browser.
The best you can do, I think, is decide the trade offs you went to make, and prepare for a future where it all falls apart. Print those photos because someday this all might fall apart. Keep hard physical copies of important things. And find ways to be happy offline.
I would question more thoroughly your worry about being on "the wrong side of the digital divide." What's the wrong? What's the fear?
I don't use corporate social media anymore. I thought this would ruin my career as a tech worker who has found jobs via SM connections, but it hasn't at all
That doesn't mean these things are worthless, maybe some of the research will help when the current structures fail, but I'm not waiting for Mastodon to kill Twitter, or Linux to take down for profit tech.
@dualhammers @M0YNG It's not really about social media. It's about the basics of life. Paying bills. Banking. Education. Access to research and information. Increasingly, critical services of living a life are online-first, phone-maybe, in-person-last. That phone-maybe part is possibly half a generation away from disappearing, and attempts at ending all in-person services have been underway.
Secondly, the entire point wasn't to revel in nostalgia but to point out how we're over a historical horizon where looking back cannot give us information about the present.
Thirdly, fundamentally, this is about identifying the social structures that force a person into patterns of use that do not leave room for alternatives.
@dualhammers @M0YNG Just to reiterate the "this isn't nostalgia" part, I could write a 20-post thread on it, but I'll distill it down to this. I lived through the era of tech history we associate with retrocomputing. I lived in a small town in the US. The entire thing was end-to-end terrible and I would *never* want to go back to it.
@roadriverrail @M0YNG not sure how it can both be about identifying social structures that force people into patterns of use that do not leave room for alternatives and not about capitalism. Perhaps that's the root of my confusion; I see all social structures as being themselves either entirely generated or fundamentally altered by capitalism, which makes them inextricable
@dualhammers @M0YNG I confess that I have found this exchange frustrating, yes, because while I agree you have some useful broader points (e.g. yes, it is indirectly about capitalism), but there's been a lot of statements asserted about my point of view without confirming them first. We may not have compatible conversational styles, at least in this format, and I appreciate that you're willing to have a no-fault disengagement here. I'll see you down the feed.
@roadriverrail @M0YNG I find it's less effort to assume misunderstanding is inevitable and that the goal isn't to win some sort of invisible contest. Then you don't need to spend extra effort clarifying your understanding - it ends up being clarified along the way. That requires both people to not assume the other person is an "opponent."
I don't post much precisely because it seems uncommon for that occur. Perhaps that's another change with modern computing
@roadriverrail great read. Thank you.
@sprkwd My pleasure. Thanks for reading it!
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