In his book Permanent Record, Edward Snowden suggests the evolution of the internet has gone from a community without border or limit where “anonymity-through-polyonym produced more truth than falsehood” to one that is unrecognizable today. Unrecognizable, in part, due to the loss of individual websites shuttered by the promise of convenience and replaced with eCommerce platforms that lend themselves to surveillance capitalism.
He goes on to say:
“Now, it was the creative web that collapsed, as countless beautiful, difficult, individualistic websites were shuttered. The promise of convenience led people to exchange their personal sites—which demanded constant and laborious upkeep—for a Facebook page and a Gmail account. The appearance of ownership was easy to mistake for the reality of it. Few of us understood it at the time, but none of the things that we’d go on to share would belong to us anymore. ”Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
It may have been a conscious choice to shutter individual websites in favor of something simpler (like publishing on a writing platform or even Facebook) but it’s also been a conscious choice that I haven’t.
Here and elsewhere I’d rather be in charge of my own personal sites than use someone else’s platform despite the potential ease and built-in audience. I recognize in exchange for putting up with this pain I get my own little piece of the web where surveillance is minimal (the only tracking here is through Google Analytics) and I get the freedom to do what I want and the opportunity to learn from the ownership of it all. Permanent Record is just one resource on learning what it means to minimize surveillance here and elsewhere.
More than anything else over the years it’s been this opportunity to learn that keeps me running my part of the creative web. For many this might sound like a headache but domain management, DNS, caching, SSL, website performance, SEO, uptime, etc. etc. are all opportunities to better understand the various parts of the internet and to become a more knowledgable consumer.
It’s also not uncommon for these duties to fall to the engineering team of a small company or startup and the more familiar you are, the better you can contribute.
Running my own beautiful, difficult, individualistic website is something I grew into over time and what I recommend others do as well. I don’t mind the difficultly given the upsides of what you can learn and doing my small part in limiting surveillance capitalism.