The great deGoogling - part 2

(the bit where I sit and wonder how I got here)

I’m in the process of deGoogling and journaling my journey. This bit looks back I how I’ve ended up in the situation where, in an era where the internet and data are so central, a company I pay no money to ‘takes care’ of so much of my digital life.

It has been a step-by-step process in, and I can see it will probably have to be a step-by-step process out. There is much to untangle. But how did I get here?

The answer: at each step of the way, Google had a compelling product that induced me to sign up. Here they are in the rough order I joined up:

  • I remember search engines like Altavista before Google search, and the frustrations trying to find what you were after. When I switched to Google, it just worked. (In recent months, trying to do the shift away from Google Search has given me some deja-vu as I try other search providers. I’m so used to finding exactly what I want first up).
  • Before gmail I had used both hotmail and yahoo email online for travelling, and used ISP-provided email on my home computer. Back then with online email, you really had to watch how full your 100MB storage allocation was getting; it wasn’t really feasible to have an online email as your main account, you had to keep culling or risk not receiving messages. Gmail came out with an unbelievable 7 GB storage, and the promise of ‘you’ll never need to delete anything’. It changed the way I approached email, and I started to use gmail more and more not just when travelling but also at home. Downloading my mails onto a single computer at home started to not make sense any more, they were much more useful left on gmail where they could be accessed from anywhere.
  • Somehow without ever choosing it, Google has also taken care of my contacts list for email and mobile phone, and I haven’t had to think about that for years now. (I used to keep a spreadsheet of contact details but keeping it synced between different email providers and devices was a headache). in the same way Google has also become my only calendar manager, although I don’t use it much.
  • Then came Drive and Docs. I’ve haven’t become as entrenched in these products as the previous two. Docs opened up the world of collaborative documents. If I had needed to do that sort of thing for work, I’m sure I would have used it more. I’ve got quite a few files on Drive, mainly ones downloaded on my phone etc, but thankfully I haven’t ever done the full changeover to online files in the way I have gone with email. I was always a bit cautious on that front.
  • Google Maps was the first time I’d used street maps digitally, and no other alternative has since caught my attention. These days with real-time traffic and intelligent voice directions, it has become a default for any unfamiliar travel, and more often also doing regular routes in heavy traffic times.
  • Chrome came out when the search was on for ‘anything but Internet Explorer’. It was clean and fast, updated without fuss. It rapidly became my default, the first thing I would change out on a new computer. Never gone for the syncing bit though as the benefits were not compelling. So properly offended when Chrome last month starting signing me in by default when I logged in to gmail.
  • Google Books was a latecomer, and sort of by chance. My prepaid provider allowed unused credit after the month to be spent on Google Play, and so my book collection began to grow.

All of this has happened gradually, and at each step the move to greater use of Google services was compelling. All without ever handing real money to Google. But, now I find they make use of combined data coming from almost everything I do, say, read, write, ask, everyone I interact with and every place I go. Can I find a way to extricate myself from their tentacles? Is it possible to rewind this process and find a better way?

Part 3 will be the bit where I figure out where to start.


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