Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 2

I’ve stopped using Gmail. You probably know about it. It’s a good piece of software that helps you send and receive email in your web browser. Because of AJAX (Javascript) it loads GUI elements quickly. It’s helpful for efficient emailing anywhere you have a computer, a web browser, and an internet connection. Very convenient. (Forgive the super basic description dear geeks. I want everyone to understand this.)

What I’ve done instead is to start using the software Pine. Yep… that old email app you might have used in the 80s or 90s. It’s a terminal application on a Unix server for sending and receiving email. It has a pretty open license that is free as in money and free as in freedom. Plus it’s installed on the server that also hosts my email. This keeps it portable and available any where I have a terminal app and ssh. (You can put Putty, a free telnet/ssh client, on a USB key and make sure it’s with you.) This is where the reasoning comes in.

Just like my post Retaining My Attention MetaData: Part 1 my main motivation is retaining my attention data. For me letting Google store all my email communications and sort through them creating what ever metadata they want just isn’t fair. The service and addictive convenience isn’t equal to the money Google makes by paying attention to what I do. Not only do I loose my privacy so does everyone that sends email to me. Multiply the number of people who’ve sent me e-mail – during the time I used Gmail – by itself and you get an idea of the potential number of connections made. Mapping social networks with attention data is powerful.

What’s Attention Data? Data created when you pay attention to something, or ignore it, online or elsewhere.

Then there is trust. I trust my main mail host. I’m pretty confident they aren’t mining it’s users email for metadata. Nor are the profiting fiscally from us. Another plus is the hardware and the network they use isn’t trivial. This equals serious performance.

Everyone who uses email should demand a terms of service that respects our privacy and doesn’t exploit our rights to determine exactly how our attention data is used. Either we all have to host our own email servers or we need to have trustworthy public email servers. The former isn’t such a crazy idea. Imagine if we all sent and received email in a peer to peer manner?

Should everyone use Pine? At this point probably not. It’s taken me years to get used to Unix and the command line. I’m a very visual person. GUIs are the main reason I got into computers. If the Macintosh hadn’t been so easy to use I might never have edited video with it. The educational hurdle that is Linux and other computer software can be overcome. One of my future parental goals is to teach my kids how to use Linux, the comand line, and use scripting languages. I wouldn’t force them… 🙂

I have traded some speed for privacy. But in the short amount of time I’ve used Pine full time I’ve increased in speed. For me it required repetitive use, hitting the same key commands over and over again. I’ve hardly use the mouse while sending email.

What should people use if not Pine? Another good option is secure web mail hosted by a private email host you trust. Make sure they use https. (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) The key is select a free web mail host that isn’t comercial. Find a not for profit group maintaining a email server. A geek friend or family member, a university, or a group like

Why not use Thunderbird? True it’s a great GUI email app. It’s free as in money and free in freedom. One potential security problem is copies of emails can be stored locally. My effort to use a terminal email app is based on forcing good habits with myself. A tad hair shirt monk style I know.

I suppose the best way to describe this part of my personal transformation is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Not the movie but the idea that by going back to an old piece of software I’m actually going forward in my safe use of technology.