Digital Life Reimagined

When I look at my digital life, I see that Google knows all about me.  Not only Google, but to a slightly lesser extent Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.  These five tech titans know a whole lot about me.  This is because of surveillance capitalism, and it is a popular way in the 21st century to make money.  Google and Facebook are really advertising companies.  They offer services for free, so that they can collect information on you. With that information they can sell targeted advertisements for you to see.  Your personal information is collected and sold by many different companies today.  It is not altogether a bad thing.  I do get value from the free services offered in exchange for my personal information.  However, letting companies have all that personal information bothers me some. Do they really need to know where I vacation?

So for the last four months, I have been, on and off, looking at Nextcloud on a Raspberry Pi 4 computer (a Christmas gift). Nextcloud is software that is written to help businesses with their workflow with a focus on privacy and collaboration.  I see Nextcloud as an open source alternative for Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 with an emphasis on file sharing (think Dropbox).  So besides file sharing, there is calendar, task lists, collaborative editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as chat, video chat, and the ability to share data and documents with select people.  And that is just a taste of the many features available.  Many people use it as a home server, and that is my plan.

The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is a cell phone-like CPU on a motherboard that can fit in your hand.  I have the Raspberry Pi 400, which has that motherboard with 4 GB of RAM in a keyboard with a power supply and a mouse.  It is a cheap way to get a computer for the house  that is also easy on the power bill.  The Raspberry Pi company has many products, starting at $4, which allows one to build hardware and create various projects.  It is connected to a charity, the Raspberry Pi Foundation “that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world”. The company funds the foundation.

Geeks all around the world have embraced the Raspberry Pi products and created some wonderful hardware and software projects.  For those like me, who are less geeky, we can take advantage of their efforts.  I was able to install Nextcloud and all the needed software, just by flashing an image (NextCloudPi) to a USB3 stick.  It made things a lot easier and as a bonus I got a web interface (and several scripts) too to help manage my Nextcloud program and all the networking details.  I really appreciate the work that those at Own Your Bits did to make my life easier. Thank you!  I know I could not have done it as well as they did, and it is possible that I would still be fighting some stupid install problem.

Nextcloud has a lot of potential.  You can have many users on a Nextcloud server and you can share across Nextcloud servers, so I can see businesses, organizations, and churches collaborating, creating, discussing, and sharing material across cities, states, and countries. In each office there could be a cheap Nextcloud server to keep data safe.  I see where this could be a potential game changer. You keep the information you want kept private safe on your server, while sharing what you want to share to those you want to share with. You are in control. Big tech does not need to have access to our data.  We can collaborate without using big tech programs and servers.

The same is true for Nextcloud at home.  Similarly with friends and family, one can privately communicate and share material on one’s own terms.  You can put your photos and/or music on Nextcloud instead of having them in some company’s cloud.  All that is needed is a decent internet connection and a cheap server like I now have.  

People like Own Your Bits have made it fairly easy to install Nextcloud, but you still need some computer knowledge.  There are some ready to use hardware products available for purchase. They are not as cheap as what I put together.  And there are several cloud providers that offer Nextcloud too.  Also for businesses, Nextcloud does offer enterprise versions that you can purchase.

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