Technical Baggage

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about a concept I've taken to calling, "Technical Baggage.", which I define as "burdens that come from using some piece of technology." These burdens could be related to more nebulous concepts like privacy, security, (data) portability, and ease-of-use, or they could be related to more physical concepts like storage methods.

As an example, I'll take two programs I use from my own tech stack: Standard Notes and Notion. I've long experimented with different notes and productivity apps, and in my quest for "the perfect tool," I've tried everything from Evernote, to a physical Field Notes notebook, to text documents. I've since come to realize that the "perfect tool" probably doesn't exist unless I make it myself for myself, but these two programs fit my needs very well.

Now, Standard Notes is something I'd consider to have "low technical baggage" because of the following:

  • Notes can be stored in plaintext which makes data extremely portable
  • Open Source, has E2E encryption, an option for 2FA, and a wonderfully concise privacy policy, which helps assuage my privacy- and security-related concerns
  • In my opinion, the program is easy to use, and I like that it doesn't take much effort to open up the app and start writing
  • Because the notes are stored online, I don't have to worry about storing the notes and transferring them from one device to another (which is also true for Notion).

When I use Standard Notes, I don't really feel "on edge" because of aspects of the program that I consider to be baggage. That's what I want in a program; I think technology should make everyone's lives easier and I don't really want stress and anxiety associated with my tools.

Notion, on the other hand, is a program I'd consider to have "high technical baggage"; when I use Notion, in the back of my mind I have concerns about almost all of the aspects I listed above. By design, notes in Notion can get very complicated because of the amount of features they have. Although Notion users are given the option of exporting pages in Markdown, CSV, HTML, and PDF formats, Notion has some pretty unique features which don't translate well into other programs and thus make it harder to move notes out of the ecosystem, inherently giving it a higher level of baggage than plaintext. The feature-packed nature of Notion also gives it a lower ease-of-use than writing in plaintext; it can take some planning and finesse to go from a blank slate to a fully-fleshed out note.

I don't really fault Notion for the portability or ease-of-use baggage, though. The increase in baggage for those two areas are the price to pay for being able to make some of the notes that are possible in Notion. In Notion's case, what concerns me more than portability and ease-of-use are the security and privacy aspects. When using Notion, I can't help but feel the weight of their privacy policy pressing down on me. Their privacy policy doesn't seem all that much different from other privacy policies that I've see (though I am not a lawyer), but I think that just shows how much baggage exists when using different apps and services. Data stored in Notion is encrypted in transit and at rest but isn't end-to-end encrypted, and has no 2FA options, which are also present in the back of my mind when I use the service and stop me from using it for more sensitive information, even though I'd like to.

I think there are trade-offs for everything. When I use Standard Notes, the notes I can make are fairly linear and straightforward, but that's exactly what I want when I use it; I want a straightforward program without baggage. Even though I have a lot of notes stored, I feel like I could get them in a pinch and that the data is mine. Compared with something like Notion, the latter just feels so heavy, like I'm being weighed down. This isn't just true for note apps, either. When using services that trap us in their ecosystem, or when buying media with DRM that's tied to one service, it feels like instead of carrying one app, or one e-book, or one note in my pocket, I'm carrying the whole company.

I don't know if we'll see this get worse or better as time goes on, but I know that for things I develop, I really want to keep this idea in mind and keep the baggage to a minimum.

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