In these diary extracts, a queer woman who is an activist and nature lover shares glimpses of the future.
I started my day listening to my favourite podcasts and reading through online news sites and social media with my coffee. I spent a good hour in the mild morning sun, something which has become rare these days. I now work remotely from my place tucked away in the hills. I still have a low bandwidth internet connection, but it is good enough to make decent video calls. I have a peaceful functional life.
A few years back, making this life choice would have meant compromises and workarounds. Social media companies were big into collecting personal data so i had to choose either to spend energy to convincing my friends and family to put effort into learn modes of communication that protected our privacy, or simply let them go. I constantly had to make an effort to isolate my profile and consider carefully what i shared on those sites. This meant i did not have the energy to spend time with my friends and family, some of whom i could only communicate with when i met them in person. This was sooo isolating and got worse during the three years of the great pandemic. I remember not meeting my family for that stretch because they were in another country. All that connected me to them were a few phone calls every few months. During that period i never once spoke to my distant relatives. I was limited to small spaces in lockdowns and was not able to share my life with anyone except my smallest circle.
Today i am glad i don’t have to do all that and can share my life with relative freedom. I am glad ads are no longer the biggest sources of revenue for these companies. I am thankful to my peers and friends who consistently tried to bring these companies to account, sometimes at personal cost. The numerous brave souls who choose to speak against their companies’ unethical practices. Almost all the social media sites i use today provide options which allow me to share my data in the manner i want, or even not share it at all. Their unethical shadow tracking practices have stopped.
It turns out that, given a choice, most people willingly share a lot of their personal life. Even i share pictures i click from time to time. Of course i release them under an open license. I find the process liberating. Being able to share in a place where all my friends and family are has been wonderful. I don’t have to wait to talk or dedicate time to giving them updates. And i don’t have to lose people over non-communication anymore.
Increasingly, i have been sharing details of my garden and my village with family and friends without worry. Before, sharing pictures online of me or my location was a huge worry because of the fear of being harassed and doxxed. I can now lock my pictures against being screenshotted or shared as a link beyond those i myself have shared them with. Social media companies neither store my pictures nor distribute them. This provides me the chance to express more. The pictures are mine and mine alone and i have legal ownership of them. Of course i pay a small fee for the platform to host them but that is an acceptable compromise for me. Though i still strip metadata from the pictures i upload. I guess old habits die hard. Despite legislation around data autonomy and changes to data culture, my generation’s experiences of social media make it hard for us to trust any company completely.
Yesterday, I went on a date. It’s been a long time since i did this. The pandemic made me wary of meeting strangers and i took a long hiatus from dating applications. Getting back to online dating was pleasantly better than i remembered. Before, when i did use the apps, most insisted on connecting to social media profiles. In fact, dating apps have the worst history when it comes to collecting and securing data. Every now and then there were leaks. Worst of all, some people on the apps ended up stalking on existing social media platforms. It was a nightmare – even more so for a person like me, in the midst of discovering my sexuality and preferred forms of expression. The views i held sometimes meant i experienced discrimination, harassment, and in one case racism. At one point i almost gave up using these applications. But my isolation and longing for companionship prevented me from completing getting away from them.
I still don’t trust dating apps with my data. But i am glad they now provide me the option of not linking my profiles. Instead of asking and storing my preferences they allow me to choose what i want to share with a person. I like the concept of speed dating someone before i have a chance to match with their profile: a few conversations with a stranger whose identity i don’t know but are based on some of the parameters i chose for a session. This means i can experiment freely with my sexuality and figure out for myself who i am without the fear of being ousted. In this way i met x. They had a similar system of values and, thank god, the same politics. We talked about all that was important to us without having to reveal our identities. We only shared information with mutual consent. I love the different actions that the dating app provides, like the action to talk more about sexual desires. It supported me in having conversations based on consent. I also like the fact that the app suggested some public spots to meet with my date if i chose to. I am still exploring these options and of course there is a long way to go for safer dating practices but i am sooo glad that this is possible.
This week has been really hectic. My organisation is growing. We are working ten-hour days and still this is not enough. The good thing is we are getting to use a lot of new gadgets and tools, something I am excited about. I work mostly from home now. In fact, my memories of working in an office are very vague now. We were a small team and had limited resources so we had to save costs wherever we could. At one point we did consider an office and have a shared space, but it never happened. For a few years we attended meetings in person as well as conferences and workshops.
When I started working at home it was as a result of compulsion. But I think it’s second nature to me right now. I have been able to build relationships with my co-workers and trust them without having to meet them. My co-workers are from distant lands yet it is magical to see us working and creating things from that distance. I haven’t met or seen some of the people I work with – before, I would have hesitated to hire or trust people I haven’t met. Now I realise that trust can be derived from just the work that is done. Our relationship is based on the work and the values attached to it. The online platforms we use now give us the space to interact without having to worry about privacy. This means we are able to freely share more of our daily lives. Earlier team interaction platforms had limited options. There were plenty offering single functionality – like say, work boards – but there were very few platforms integrating every aspect of communication that was not emails. The platforms which worked well were proprietary, or difficult to use or adapt. To use these platforms one had to either trust a private organisation or learn complex skills to host and use a private platform. The movement to online work meant more people faced these issues, which led to the creation of new easy-to-use, one-click installation platforms that required no special skills. Some also provide options for not storing persistent data, conversations and interactions, which organisations can pass on. This has led to greater trust between organisation members and safe spaces for sensitive conversations.
I acknowledge not everyone has this privilege. We haven’t been able to carry on the same kind of work. But we have been fortunate enough to be able to support people in new ways. Our roles have changed and a lot of barriers have been broken down. Before, we had to travel to places where resources were abundant. Now, we are able to connect with clients and patrons just the same way as the people living in those places. In a way, the barriers have reduced.
Access to the internet had been a challenge for most of our partners and friends who are part of marginalised communities or live in non-urban places. But the pandemic meant everyone needed access to the internet, which forced governments and private companies to invest in the infrastructure. Now a remote organisation, community or individual no longer needs to go the extra mile to access resources that others in resource-rich countries and places have easy access to. Communities and people are able to share their work on platforms that are much more equitable and establish trust. Barriers to equity still exist, but they are considerably fewer.
On a personal note, I am considering moving to the village I have been yearning to live in. As the pandemic has eased, I’ve been meeting my family and friends more. I feel the city no longer has a role to play in my life and I no longer have to worry about earning a living…