I decided to quit Google. It’s a thing I’ve been thinking about doing for a year or two, so last weekend I finally pulled the trigger. The reasons are many, but basically boil down to a need to cut down on pointless internet use and a resentment at the all-pervasiveness and ubiquity of one company’s presence every time I turn on my computer. I’m still thinking through what I’ve done and whether there was any point to it, but for the moment, it feels like the right move.
What made me hesitate in all the time I’ve been considering cutting Google out of my life is the hours of mind-numbing work it would take. I’ve used Gmail for well over ten years and have stored thousands of files in Google Drive for many, as well. Going through thousands of email, image, sound, and word files to figure out what to keep, where to put it, and what to cull was a daunting task. But once I started—like binge-watching some TV show I just discovered—I couldn’t stop.
The first thing was to find a new email service. I chose Proton Mail after reading some articles rating various options. I had to pay a subscription fee to get some features I wanted, but I have no problem paying for products. One of the devastating mistakes of the internet is the idea that anything on it is free. One way or another we all pay—be it in dollars or by sprinting furiously on someone else’s hamster wheel for their research and benefit, nothing on our screens is truly free. Nor should it be. People deserve to be compensate for their labor. Once you know your habits are being tracked for marketing or other purposes, it seems like a no-brainer to offer money rather than data for the products you like. I have no doubt Proton Mail isn’t run by saints, but their smaller size and forthright demand for payment for enhanced email features feels a lot more attractive than Gmail’s allegedly free model.
The second step was finding a browser and search engine to replace Chrome and Google. I went with Firefox and DuckDuckGo because they take steps not to track people’s searches. I’m sure it’s not foolproof and I’m not worried about companies finding out anything embarrassing or incriminating from what I look for online, but I’m sick and tired of Google searches which constantly morph from keywords and subjects I use. The feeling of constantly having my sleeve tugged to buy this or that has gotten very old.
The third step was to move all my cloud-stored files from Drive to Dropbox. That took about seven hours, after which my poor laptop seemed to be gasping to catch its breath. Then I deleted about 60 gigabytes of data from Drive. It felt good. Like emptying out a room I no longer wanted to go into. I could now shut the door.
Step four took the longest. I had to go through thousands of saved email to see what to save and what to cast aside. This took days. I had over seven hundred messages just devoted to my John Lurie debacle six years back (I’ll share that ridiculous story with you after he’s dead.) Other folders were full of letters from exes, long-forgotten, often unrealized art projects, and much correspondence with people I could no longer remember. I made word files for ones I thought could be useful for future work and dumped the rest. After the selecting was done, I went to the All Mail tab, hit Select All, and sent over 25,000 email to the digital graveyard, where, hopefully, only tech wizards with time on their hands can ever get to it again. Whether that’s so or not, I felt a weight lifted knowing that I would never have to consider wading through it all again.
Much like the time four years ago when I quit social media and smartphones, there were people in my life questioning what I was doing. I explained the best I could, but it boils down to simplifying my life and purging unhealthy and unnecessary habits. Chief among them, the use of Google’s search engine. In the absence of the dopamine rush of Likes and Follows, I’d sometime use Google for similar narcissistic bumps of self-approval. You can get an up-to-the-hour update of what people are looking for that relates to you. You can keep refreshing these searches as the day goes on and wondering one thing climbs the rankings, while another disappears altogether. For compulsive types like me it’s irresistible, but also completely insane making. Getting rid of the option to even look was the only way I could stop this bad habit. Sure, I can look myself up on DuckDuckGo, but it doesn’t feel the same. And because I’m self-conscious about it, I don’t do it nearly as often. I’m hoping I wean myself of the habit altogether except for practical research work reasons. We’ll see.
These last few days have felt like I moved to a new neighborhood. Quiet and unfamiliar but one I think I’ll like over the long haul.
— I Don’t Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is about the Odessa Massacre perpetrated by Romania against that city’s Jews, but it’s as powerful an evocation of a country’s refusal to accept its historical culpability as I can recall seeing in a long time. It nails the way people twist facts to suit their own ends in a way that should give pause to anyone living in the US these days. Go see it if you can.