I continue to use my phone without Google services, and I like it. I finally feel free. But now I’ve started to wonder.
I remember watching “The Matrix” for the first time back when I was 15 or so…and I remember thinking about the nature of what motivated the characters and why. “Freedom” is a word that gets thrown around alot, but there is a part of me that, even back then, seemed to resonate with Cypher, the one who negotiated with Agent Smith to get plugged back into The Matrix in exchange for giving up Morpheus. Now sure, the betrayal part wasn’t cool, but wanting to get plugged back into The Matrix? That made a whole lot of sense to me.
Cypher was having a steak dinner. Not really, but it was real to him. What was everyone else having? One nutritional supplement. That’s it. For the rest of your life. Neo found love in Trinity, but Morpheus never did. If Cypher was looking for female companionship, there were no options on the ship after Switch died. They spent their days constantly on the run from the Sentinels, they never saw daylight, there was nothing they got to truly own…the list of drawbacks continues, while the list of advantages of not-being in The Matrix doesn’t. We root for Morpheus and Neo and Trinity because they’re fighting the good fight…but in practice, was Cypher really so off base for wanting to live out his life back in The Matrix? I don’t think so.
It’s been about a month since I’ve been using this phone completely Google-free. I can take pictures, but not nearly as good as the photos I can get using the Camera app from OnePlus. SwiftKey is still inferior to Swype. Visual Voicemail barely works. Frost, my Facebook replacement, acts strange and has trouble loading pictures sometimes. I can’t be sure that it’s truly software related, but my 5G performance is generally worse than LTE…and that’s just the things I know.
I don’t use TikTok.
I don’t use Craigslist.
I don’t use Snapchat.
I don’t use Youtube (except in a browser).
I don’t use SoundCloud.
I don’t use Twitch.
I don’t use Office.
I don’t use a Fitbit or other fitness band.
I don’t use Teams or Slack or Monday.
I don’t use CashApp or Zelle…though I do use Venmo and it works.
I dont use Discord.
I dont use Spotify.
I don’t use Pinterest.
I don’t use Walmart or Target or pretty much any shopping apps.
I don’t use Google Docs or do much in the way of document editing on my phone, unless you count this blog.
I don’t use Uber Eats or Doordash or pretty much any food ordering app.
I don’t use Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri.
I don’t use Ring or a security DVR.
I don’t use Neighborhood or Next door or Everyblock.
The list goes on and on…and I’m starting to wonder if the experiences I eschew to spend my days on a command line on my desktop are worth it. People are finding things they like, buying and selling things amongst local people, ordering new foods, chatting with the people it’s been a social taboo to meet, and I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that mobile apps are doing, but I’m not.
There is most definitely a part of me that feels a bit like Ariel… Wanting to be where the people are and finding myself wondering if my aversion to echo chambers and endless online accounts means that I have simply made an echo chamber of my own. I sit, wondering whether the nuance of the liberty I feel is a technicality in that I spent a massive amount of time and effort to simply custom build my own prison.
Google collects a metric truckton of data from everyone, and yet, the world turns. Nobody else gets concerned if Google has all their contacts; nobody in my contacts list isn’t in someone else’s phone that is uploaded. My texts are synced on someone else’s phone, and even if my location is only partially traceable based on the amount of disabling I have implemented, my work phone remains on my person with far fewer limitations.
Why am I fighting this battle? What am I fighting for? “because I can”? Because I’m somehow sticking it to “Big Tech”? Because I’m worried about my data being accumulated and monetized while also using Facebook and doing nearly all my shopping with a credit card?
Maybe all of this effort is just me spiting myself. If Google turns on the billion people that already have Android phones and somewhat-consensually sync all their data, then I’m very unlikely to be “spared” from whatever happens. I’ve got friends who expressly opt into giving Google data in pretty much every possible way… And they seem happy.
Betrayal aside, maybe Cypher was right: the steak he ate wasn’t real, but the experience of eating it was, and it was an experience he could have inside The Matrix that he would never experience as long as he was “free”. Maybe my quest for a Google-free phone is little more than a quixotic waste of time, and I’d achieve greater happiness by going back to the phone’s original software from the manufacturer, leaving my phone modding days in the golden age of the HTC HD2 or Galaxy S3.
Or maybe, freedom is ownership…and even if “freedom” boils down to constructing my own prison, at least it’s mine.