Leaving the Cloud

The past few months have made me reconsider my relationship with social media and cloud services. And I think that I'd be happier if I felt more in control over my digital life.

a storm with lightning
Photo by Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

Now more so than ever before, I find myself contemplating what my personal tech stack looks like. There are the devices that I use daily. Apps that have become integral parts of my routines and workflows. Cloud services that I rely on for data access, storage, and backup. Established over the past 10 years, my current setup is most of all convenient...

But it doesn't feel great.

For one, I have no idea how big my tech stack actually is. Over the years, I've installed so many apps, set up so many cloud services, and created so much digital clutter that it is impossible for me to keep an overview. 1Password has helped bring at least some order to the chaos by cataloging my accounts. But after a decade of growth and experimentation, my data is fragmented across platforms, accounts, and backups.

The other reason is my reliance on cloud services for critical parts of my digital life. If Apple decided tomorrow to delete my account, I don't know if I would be able to recover all the data that is stored somewhere in iCloud. Sure, some of it is stored locally as well. Some is on a backup somewhere else. But I'm sure there are documents and photos that only exist within that account. And that's just Apple. How many other companies do I rely on that could go bankrupt, become evil, or simply lose my data in a software glitch? Especially in times when billionaires buy and destroy companies just for their ego.

It is this loss of control over my data that concerns me the most.

Ten years ago, I decommissioned my last home server. I was tired of manually administrating Linux systems. I was looking something that just worked, that got out of my way, and that allowed me to focus on my productivity. So I replaced the server with a Synology NAS, switched from Ubuntu to macOS, and starting using iCloud to sync data between my devices. While this was definitely the right decision then, I feel that it's time to go back to my own home server now.

What has really inspired me recently is seeing @nova and folks run Hachyderm, a Mastodon instance. In Nova's streams on Twitch, you can see one of the servers sitting right behind her in her office. Running a decentralized social network from home is the perfect example of taking back control from big businesses and the cloud. And it's encouraging to see that people are actually doing it!

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In the past ten years, both me and the environment have changed. I was a student back then, and now I am an experienced software and infrastructure engineer. I feel more confident in my ability to set up a system that is more robust and resilient than what I had before. Which also has to do with the maturity of tooling that is available today, from Terraform to NixOS and Kubernetes.

As I am contemplating my relationship with big tech, and the impact that especially social media has on our society at large, I feel that it is a necessary act of civil disobedience to cut ties with the cloud. Joining a decentralized social network and setting up my own home server seem like the obvious first steps on that journey.