Matt Marshall

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Brief reflections on my relationship with photos

As part of my 'leaving behind Google' process, combined with my minimalism journey, I recently exported and curated an entire archive of photographs I've collected. They're mostly concentrated around 2011 -- 2015, but there are a few even back to 2008 from my days doing stage shows and there's another little concecntration more recently from when I finally upgraded my smartphone.

I learned a few things about what I value from this process. I downloaded all the images, imported them into Shotwell to have it automatically sort them by date where it can, and then traipsed through chronologically to sort the wheat from the chaff. it took around two hours, which was a lot longer than expected. The tl;dr version of this is that "I don't need to keep around 90% of the photos I do take", my thoughts behind this are below.

I take a lot of photographs of landscapes and buildings that I don't actually care about

Whenever I go on an adventure out somewhere like a city, or the cliffs, or an abandoned building, I've almost compulsively took photographs across the day. I say the word compulsively because the impulse to photograph things does not come naturally to me. I was late to the smartphone game and until recently the camera on my phone has been subpar. Since catching up, I've been feeling the need to 'document' my journeys and this has involved taking a lot of photographs of stuff like beautiful landscapes and buildings that I appreciate. Thing is, I don't actually care about these photographs.

Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate a good building or landscape and if you show me photographs you've taken I will absolutely sit and listen and look at the image whole-heartedly. It's just that, once I've sat and appreciated a good view I don't often feel the need to revisit it. I deleted most of my photographs of mountains, sunrises at the beach, and cityscapes. I kept a few, but these were really heavily tied to personal achievements and much more representational of a point in time than anything else.

I care a lot more about people and stories than I do about places and events

Related to above, the photographs I found myself keeping were the ones featuring myself with others. Turns out the people in my life are much more important to me than the fact I've had a day out somewhere, or saw a nice building. Most of my fond memories are tied with visiting friends, or going out on adventures with them. I like spending time alone as well, which is why I deleted a lot of empty landscapes and selfies, but whenever I came across a photograph of myself and a loved one together it was often my favourite photo of that time period.

The same holds true for stories vs events. I don't care so much for a "Visited Niagara Falls" photograph of the falls, I care about a group picture that we took that acts as a prompt for me to tell myself or tell another the story of the creepy food court staffed by probably-ghosts. Sometimes the story is a selfie of me pulling a stupid face atop a mountain. But yeah -- I kept all the photographs of myself and others doing stuff.

I prefer it when others take photographs of me

I'm not a particularly good photographer, although sometimes modern cameras can compensate for that. I've grown accustomed to selfies but I'm still not overly comfortable with them and for that reason I prefer it when others take photographs of me. That way I have documentation of myself from another's perspective. It also makes me feel valued that they'd consider taking a photograph of me.

Also, and this is no small part, it means I get a photograph of a story without having to deal with all the other photographs in another person's collection.

Most of my photos are purely utilitarian

Around 80% of my photographs are taken for a single-use, disposable purpose (is there a comparison with one-use plastics there?). Most of the time that purpose is "Hey look at the thing!". Since I quit Facebook, it's been less about sharing to the masses and more about messaging specific people about a thing I want to show them. Stuff like "My lunch is much better than yours" or "Look at this thing I've just spotted on the street". It's like picture messaging a la snapchat but because I don't actually use snapchat, the image sticks around on my phone and makes its way into my collection when imported.

I can live in the moment a lot more

I mentioned earlier than I take a lot of photographs of beautiful scenery. I've somehow associated appreciating something beautiful with archiving it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I've just expended energy taking the photo only to never look at it and then expend more energy deleting it later.

What I'm taking from this is that I can take that energy and transfer it into experiencing the moment a lot more. I already do appreciate a good scene-as-it-happens, but if I walk in with the knowledge that I don't need to take a photograph of it, I think I'll be more inclined to appreciate it.

I need a photo mode that allows me to share-and-forget

I need a mode in apps and cameras that allow me to take a photograph to show people a thing, on various platforms/services, and then instantly delete the local copy of the photo so it never makes its way to a collection. If anyone knows an app like this, please let me know.

reflection minimalism data curation photography values

A bit of DeGoogling

As I grow increasingly concerned with my reliance on Cloud Services, and the exposure of my data to the corporate overlords, I've been "taking back control" bit by bit.

This really began at the start of my MRes in late 2014, when I made a decision to revert to Firefox back from Google Chrome. I had originally moved to Chrome at the beginning of my undergraduate degree because the browser finally released an Ubuntu version and they offered better syncing services (Firefox sync sucked). This, coupled with my new smartphone and the aesthetics of Google's apps, drew me in and I handed over the keys to my life.

Today I'm in the throws of a De-Googling, slowly claiming my life back piece by piece by removing reliance on their services. As I said, I began by reverting to my old friend, Firefox. I still require Chrome for Netflix on Ubuntu due to bollocks proprietary Silverlight stuff on Netflixs' part, but I'm back on board with Mozilla for browsing.

My Phone

My phone was the next battle-ground. It's intrinsically tied to Google services, being an Android phone. I went through a phase of adoring Hangouts as "the iMessage Killer", which ended as soon as I experienced the snooping. I had sent my friend an SMS via Hangouts regarding dinner; she's vegan and I was reassuring her that the meal I was cooking would be vegan as well. For a week after this, I was getting adverts on YouTube about vegan chocolates. It freaked me out, so I removed Hangouts and installed Textra. I'm currently trying out Signal. This became coupled with a frenzy of disabling Google apps on my phone. Play Books, Hangouts, loads. By the end of it, I had removed tons of Google apps. However, look at what I'm still left with:

  • Authenticator
  • Calendar
  • GMail
  • Google Search (I've disabled Google Now, though)
  • Google Settings (for some reason, I'm not even that sure what it does)
  • Keep
  • Maps
  • Play Music
  • Play Store
  • Street View
  • Translate
  • Voice Search
  • YouTube

Which is somewhat concerning. Ever since discovering F-Droid I've made it a mission to replace all/most of the apps on my phone with versions from their whenever possible, even if it means losing a feature or two. This has manifested in many different ways, but has provided me with a few opportunities to address the Googleage on my phone.

I've 99% replaced Authenticator with One Time Pad, and just need to transfer my Facebook across. This requires a Facebook log in though; something I'm not willing to do until the new year. I used Open Street Map for a long time, but missed Google's navigation features whilst I was in California and got sucked back in :-( I replaced the Google Camera apps on my phone with OpenCamera.

Reflecting on this, F-Droid's biggest impact isn't how it's provided me with opportunities to attack Google apps; it's the decreased reliance on Google's Play Store of apps. It's now instinct for me to check out F-Droid instead of Play, and I've replaced around 12-15 apps on my phone with F-Droid equivalents. Google no now longer get that usage tracking from me (if they ever did).


This is the fucker. Google's entire schtick is services, and I've been there from the beginning as the beta tester for GMail. Here's the state of the battleground for me in terms of service-usage for Google:

  • I've removed reliance on Google Search by using DuckDuck Go. About once a fortnight I require a quick search to Google for comparisons if I can't find something that might rely on the context of being tracked. This is happening less often.
  • I deleted my G+ account. I didn't manually delete my photos so they've probably still got them
  • I moved back from using GDrive to using Dropbox, and I store as much using BitBucket as possible.
  • I still use YouTube, and subscribe to stuff. I don't really see a way around that.
  • As mentioned, I still use Maps. Trying harder next year to tackle this using OSM wherever possible.
  • I use GMail. It's familiar, and I'm aware that it tracks me. I mainly use it as a 'back up' address, and places where 99% of my subscription emails go. I do use the .uk address provided by my host for most things -- but I hate my host and this has put my reliance on that into question.
  • I use Google Keep as cloud notes are pretty neat and I like the app a lot. I'm thinking of mocking up a quick clone, sans some features, to use myself or outsource my todo list to Trello (Trello has a lot of Google signin though and I'm not sure how much they track me)
  • Play Music. This is the current front, alongside Authenticator (which is lower priority)
  • I occasionally use Google sign in for some services.

In the trenches with Google Play Music.

In 2012 I outsourced my music library to Google Play Music. I got sucked into using 'devices' (a phone and a tablet), and needed a way to sync across them. Play Music allowed me to 'pin' music to the device and then swap it out for others when it got full! Amazing! And Google were letting you upload your own tracks. I didn't possess the critical faculties at the time to understand what was going on. By handing Google control of my music library I had provided them with an insight into who I was through my data, but I had also given them the power to determine what I was allowed to listen to and when. When music becomes confined to these walled gardens, then it can't be shared freely among the people. Google users may have access to a particular band that iTunes users don't. Governments can decided that Tchaikovsky is a bad idea and order it blacklisted from these stores.

No more. I'm going back. Using Google's little app thing, I'm downloading my entire music library back to my external hard drive. We're going full circle back to the Marshall of 2008 where I have an Ubuntu machine, Rhythmbox, and my external drive. I tried to do this before, but I want to remove another service. I think last time, Google didn't download some of my tracks properly. This is a risk I'm going to have to deal with I think. I don't listen to that much music anyway.

On the phone front, I'll be trawling F-Droid for the best music players. I might even do one of those weird review-blog things. Yes. Rsync + USB cable will be my syncing services now.

privacy google cloud anticloud data music control

Brimstone: Plans and Situated Actions

I've grown a bit restless with Brimstone (the software that's running this site) at the moment. I've been dribbling in features here and there to keep myself occupied, but I think it needs a bit of an overhaul both visually and in the background.


  • Change the CSS and page structure from Bootswatch to Materialize I've never enjoyed doing my own CSS other than a few small bits, so this move is largely just for the visual appeal and a vector for removing JS
  • Remove Admin Section reliance on JavaScript I've never enjoyed writing JavaScript either. During the restructuring I'm going to be changing the admin section to have minimal JavaScript, and elegant rollback. Currently the features that rely on JS are posting Notes and Replies, and favourites. Since this is the bulk of interactions with the software, I think it needs changing a bit. I like some shiny interactive features, but these shouldn't be necessary to create particular forms of content.
  • Condense Notes and Posts into single data structure The bulk of my content is written as Notes, which are a shameless emulation of Tweets and were actually the first type of content I produced. Posts are the longer, blog-post style, pieces of content. There's literally no other reason other than my excitement and stupid categorisation of content that they need to be separate. I'll do content inference instead; pieces with a title get published with an 'Article' template, and those without get a 'Note' template. With a location field, it means I can also infer check-ins as well as add richer data to all posts. This might not work for later content types such as exercise data as they don't share many common fields. Syndication templates can also be produced.
  • Restructure the URLs to content and implement redirects for old Tweet citations
  • Feature to import all tweets between certain dates to create a backlog of content
  • Implement a basic exercise tracker
  • Implement a basic spending tracker
  • Produce summaries of my content (heavily inspired by Rhiaro
  • Implement proper user management to let people 'install' the software themselves, without editing files to create a user.
  • Release the source on Github.

That's a lot to do, and I'm thinking of dedicating an evening a week to the project. We'll see how it goes. For now, you get bonus points if you understand the relationship between the title and the content of this post.

cms brimstone data content