Quitting the Big Five—A Reply to Brad East

On the basic structure of my tech choices these days. Briefly.

My friend Brad East writes on the idea of disentangling oneself from Big Tech companies:

Supposing you continued to use digital technology — supposing, that is, you did not move onto a tech-free country ranch, unplugged from the internet and every kind of screen — how many of these Big Tech companies could you extract yourself from without serious loss? Put from another angle, what is the fewest possible such companies you need to live your life?

So far as I can see it, the answer is simple: Commit exclusively to one company for as many services as possible.

Now, this may be seriously unwise. Like a portfolio, one’s digital assets and services may be safest and best utilized when highly diversified. Moreover, it’s almost literally putting one’s eggs in a single basket: what if that basket breaks? What if the one company you trust goes bust, or has its security compromised, or finds itself more loyal to another country’s interests than one’s own, so on and so forth?

All granted. This may be a foolish endeavor. That’s why I’m thinking out loud.

But supposing it’s not foolish, it seems to me that the simplest thing to do, in my case, would be to double down on Apple. Apple does hardware and software. They do online storage. They do TV and movies. They do music and podcasts. They’re interoperable. They have Maps and email and word processors and slideshows and the rest — or, if I preferred, I could always use third-party software for such needs (for example, I already use Firefox, not Safari or Chrome).

He then explains how he could/would do this if he thinks about it.

Since I am killing time waiting with my family in the airport, I sent him a quick email back — Brad has been bugging me to write up some thoughts this direction for years, and this finally did the trick, though not quite in the form he asked for. What follows is my 100% unedited email to him: strongly affirming the plan!

Spoilers: what you outline there is more or less what I have done. You could go further by going for Linux machines and open source sync etc., but the falloff in quality is severe. I find the tradeoff of “Basically use Apple stuff” to be a pretty decent one at present: the hardware and software is best in class, the ecosystem smaller but much higher quality than what you find for almost everything on Windows, and the privacy setup is much better for an average person. (You can do better on privacy with Linux and Android, but the effort level is high and the costs to UX even higher, and they don’t matter unless you work for the CIA or are a missionary in an extremely closed country or something like that.)

On Amazon: we swore it off almost a decade ago, and we haven’t missed it much, to be honest. The more so as it has turned into a giant pile of junk from third-party vendors over time. Amazon TV is th one sort of useful thing, mostly for The Expanse… which is now over. (I think I will watch S2 of The Wheel of Time and The Rings of Power, but think” tells you how strong my endorsement is not.)

Bonus of getting off of Microsoft: Keynote is much better than Powerpoint.

And if you switched to a plain text format for writing (Markdown most likely), you’d have something much more portable forever as an authoring format–-with the tradeoff of needing some tools get from that format into something you can send to a journal/do revisions on/etc. Given the shape of your field, I suspect actually getting out of Word entirely (rather than just at a personal/familial level) would be the hardest bit, just because that’s how revisions and collaborations so often get done. Jacobs wrote about this dynamic a while back, though: he (like me) lives in plain text as long as possible and then switches over to Word only for the revisions-with-an-editor phase.

If you want off of Gmail, bite the one-time bullet of (a) switching to a new provider, (b) migrating everything, (c) forwarding everything in perpetuity, and (d) setting up an auto-responder to tell people about the change of email address. You probably don’t want to actually kill the address–-too much stuff tied to it, in my experience–-but you can steadily move account references off of it. Bonus: point everything to brad@bradeast.org or hello@bradeast.org or something along those lines when you do that, and then it does not matter who your email provider is. If you want a recommendation (and a referral link!): I use and am extremely satisfied with Fastmail, which I have been using since 2014 or so.

Long story short: I approve!

Also… I realize that you basically nerd sniped me into a first draft of the post you started bugging me about all those years ago.