"The Egg Vendor," by Hans Sebald Beham; 1520. Image courtesy the Cooper Hewitt Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Open Access.

It all started when Google canceled Stadia...

Actually, it all started when Google announced that they would transition Chrome to Manifest V3...

Now that I think about it, I think it was when Google canceled Reader...

Of the 200 or so of you who read this, maybe 25 of you know what I'm talking about. So let me explain: Google (a company you know), does a lot of things, and does many of them extremely well. They also have a reputation for shutting down features that either don't catch fire, don't have an internal champion, or simply don't care about anymore.

To be clear, that's their right! They're not required to keep running programs or apps that they don't want to anymore, and that's ultimately fine. It's also my right to make my own decisions on apps and programs and what have you based on those choices, and so I spent my Columbus/Indigenous People's Day Weekend diversifying my portfolio, as it were.

My friends,  it was not easy. In fact, a project I began Saturday afternoon is still ongoing five days later, and I mostly blame myself. Why? Because a decade or so ago, I basically went "all in" on Google. Switched to an Android phone (developed by Google), transitioned fully to GMail (Google's webmail platform), accessed via Google Chrome (the internet browser). When on my phone, I would make calls and texts with Google Voice, downloaded from the Google Play App Store, and would monitor topics for work (and later the paper) using Google Alerts.  It's not even that I was a big Google guy, per se - it's just much easier when everything can talk to everything else, and Google provided a low-to-no cost way to make my phone talk to my desktop and my desktop talk to my laptop in ways that other companies and providers weren't able to do.

(My first smartphone, a Blackberry Storm (which is widely viewed as a failure of a device) needed to run an app, Google Sync, to make cross-platform communication work. It's much easier now.)

For me, the internet peaked with Google Reader, and nothing else has come close. But Google insisted that not enough people used it and discontinued it close to a decade ago. Google, in many tech-savvy circles, is synonymous with assassinating products that have passionate followings (there's a whole digital graveyard devoted to it), but Google does tend to roll the cancelled products into other services - their shuttered word processor became Google Docs, Grand Central turned into Voice, Google Video merged with YouTube, etc. Still, when you base your digital life around certain products and services, you're doing so with the assumption (or belief, or desire) for the programs to survive for a while.  

Google, on the other hand, seems to keep or kill projects based on their ability to inject advertising into them. Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, was the basis of Reader, and you can't inject ads into something you don't control, so it's dead. Google Chrome's Manifest V3 will make it more difficult for ad blockers to operate, so it has to change (by the way, everyone should run an ad blocker, and I say that in a publication that is going to need to run ads eventually). GMail, however, has ads all over the place. Google Search has sponsored results, the Play store is monetized, and on and on. So I had to make some choices.

I'm now running Firefox instead of Chrome. I have a primary ProtonMail account instead of GMail. I moved off of Google Voice, text via Signal, search via DuckDuckGo. I'm not fully divesting myself from Google, mind you - I'm still on an Android phone, still use Google Drive, and so on. But it's better for my digital life to diversify the portfolio, and that's before we factor in the safety and security aspects.

So where am I going with all this? Well, Very Online Libertarians will talk about how the government "has a monopoly on violence," but what it ultimately means is that you don't generally get a choice in the matter. You don't get to choose your police officers. You can't compete with the USPS (don't get me started on the postal monopoly). There's only one Planning Board. You can't switch to the Firefox of Fire Departments because it doesn't exist.

When I rail in this space or my previous home about various issues in town that seem rather minor or esoteric, it's because we can't diversify our public services the same way. A key aspect of my ultimately fruitless effort to stop security cameras in public spaces, for example, was because people don't have a choice. You can't opt out of being in front of a camera when you go to the library anymore, and that's a shame. And sure, maybe you don't care - but you might also not care until you have to care, and by then, it's too late.

I'm not saying we should privatize the government. I'm conservative, but I'm not that conservative. I am saying, however, that when we talk about how we want our government to treat us? Google's motto used to be "don't be evil," and we should think not about the government as inherently evil, but instead the potential of it all going wrong. If we don't ask the right questions, Mllbury's version of Google Reader might get discontinued and we're left scrambling for a reasonable alternative. It might mean making choices now that might take some time to fully bear fruit, and might not be popular even though they're right.

I'm using a lot more privacy-focused apps and decentralized programs than I used to. I probably should have switched over a long time go. I'd like our government to decentralize a bit more, too - or at least put some of the protections in that make it less necessary.

Jeff Raymond is a nearly 40-year resident of Millbury. UBlock Origin or we riot. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @jeffinmillbury.