What's the deal with titles, anyway?

Caring a lot about privacy and anonymity can be a double-edged sword. Some of us are prone to paranoia. On one hand, it is deeply concerning how much information is gathered about all of us simply by using the internet in the most accessible methods. Using an unmodified browser on the most popular operating system (Windows) with no special tweaks, a frightening amount of information is collected and stored by a multitude of entities.

Two years ago, I fell deeply down this rabbit hole. I learned a lot about encryption, how the tools we use everyday can spy on us, and ways to circumvent these efforts. I remember spending WEEKS modifying all my hardware to be as locked down as possible. Then more weeks spent modifying my modifications after learning my modifications still had holes. Hell, I completely locked myself out of my old Android phone in a panicked attempt to root the device (to my understanding, this isn't terribly difficult to do; but I was trying to work fast and was incredibly anxious to get it done. Always a bad idea!). My entire life had become centered around the idea of becoming untraceable. Friends couldn't contact me unless it was through Signal. I wouldn't play simple games with my loved ones I had no way to verify how my information would actually be used (I didn't, and still don't, fully trust privacy policies). In short, I was becoming a paranoid mess and losing my personality in the pursuit of anonymity.

At some point I decided I'd had enough. I stopped caring nearly as much. I simply could not live that way. Life became much simpler again. But lately, as I've delved back into computer science and find myself fascinated with these concepts yet again, I've noticed these old habits resurfacing. Does this mean I should stop caring about these matters? Of course not. Everything in moderation. If it weren't for my wonderful boyfriend, I would probably have missed the cues and become a paranoid wreck yet again. Thankfully, I've begun to step back. Hell, I'm using Windows (on this device, at least).

It's hard to find that middle ground, but I'm trying my damndest. Me posting my thoughts here is yet another step I've taken to walk these habits back towards a happy medium. The thought of sharing my thoughts with the world like I am now terrifies me for a multitude of reasons. But in the spirit of living a full, happy life, I will not let these fears control me any longer.

I truly think the world should demand to have their rights to basic privacy respected by the powers that be. Governments and powerful forces often use this information to keep their people in line and to crush dissent before it has a chance to grow into a threatening force. And we should all keep in mind that as our data is sold and traded, this information is used to manipulate our thoughts and actions in ways we likely fail to see. If they know all about our habits and weaknesses, they can steer the reigns of our futures with frightening accuracy. But this does not leave us powerless. We should choose to be mindful of the messages society feeds us so that we can make careful, conscious decisions to keep what really matters to us in the front of our minds. Make the effort - don't let them divide us and keep us afraid. The world feeds us lies and keeps us afraid of ourselves and others because fear is a powerful controlling force.

But we can't let the desire for privacy become a sole guide, or we can easily lose our real selves in fear and paranoia. Never let fear rule you. That isn't what life is all about. But we should resist having our rights to basic privacy taken away, or we may lose our ability to control our collective future. Countries around the world continue to restrict these rights, like blocking access to VPNs or the TOR network - powerful tools that allow those living in authoritarian nations to communicate freely and without fear of persecution. However, it's important to realize this is a balancing act. It isn't healthy to exist at either extreme. One should certainly care and become aware of how our information can be gathered and used against us. But you could spend your whole life fighting for control of and access to your information. However, this wouldn't be living. You would have still let fear win.

I'll certainly get around to discussing some of the more important tools and services that I'm aware of, and simple, low-friction ways we can stay more in control of our data. For now, I just wanted to share the importance of finding a happy medium. It isn't always easy. It certainly isn't for me. But I'll keep making the effort because it's the only path that makes sense to me.


- 03/16/2024

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