In thinking about budgets in tight times, it may be easiest to think about all of the things that we are paying for and then see exactly what it is that we can cut back on. It makes sense that we wouldn’t spend much time at all agonizing over what we do not pay for, but I am finding myself feeling entitled to everything that I am not paying for. I am finding myself reliant on the free things that are simply the fabric of my everyday existence. And it makes me think about just how many systems I have surrounding me that support my way of life. Even with all of my overpowering responsibilities, I know that the things that really open up possibilities are the ones that I don’t have to pay a monthly fee for. And as I consider what to cut out, I must also think about what is essential.
Things that are free that I could never live without:
- WordPress blogging software- This has become a part of my habit of thought and reflection. Everything that is a seed of an idea is run through this piece of free and rapidly expanding software. It sometimes makes me wonder what I used to call publishing and what I used to call brainstorming. How was it that I was able to focus my attention on a single document that sat on my hard drive?
- Google Documents- Sure, this may not always be free and there are other services that are like it, I am finding that there is no reason to go anywhere else for my collaborative needs. I share links to edit documents on a daily basis (having almost completely forgone inviting individuals via e-mail address at this point). When I am connected to Docs, I literally have a record of nearly every collaborative project I have undertaken in the last 4 years. It says something about what I value to be able to literally replay the revision history of my life.
- Libox – I have listened to more music in the last few months than I have for the past 3 years combined. The simple sharing of music with my friends is a beautiful thing. The fact that it is a better looking (and much lighter) player than iTunes makes it so much more essential. I need to hear what other people are listening to and not just the radio stations that they frequent. I want to hear the actual music that is shaping their lives because if I let it, it will shape mine too.
- Free Wifi – The internet is in the air and I expect the air to be free. I understand that bandwidth costs something for someone, but I can’t at this point imagine going into a public place like a library, coffee shop or school and expect to pay for access to my communication system. Just as we have free access to the public radio frequencies and tv frequencies, I am starting to believe in free access to the wifi frequencies too.
- The Jabber Protocol and Adium – I started using AIM in 1997, but I fell out of love with Instant Messaging until quite recently. I now feel much more connected to everyone I care about because there is a single protocol and program that allows me to stay in touch. While I like twitter and facebook for staying connected and I enjoyed Skype for a time for video calls, I am finding that much of the meaningful conversations of my daily life are happening as a series of rapid messages. Adium connects me to my gmail contacts and their Jabber server as well as the Facebook chat that seems to be a favorite of many folks who spend a lot of their networking time in there. The fact that this is all open protocols and open sourced means that I will never have to give it up, even if my network moves on like they did from AIM.
- Search – I don’t really care that it is Google that is running my search now. I must say that I have all but stopped categorizing or folding things away in any of the services I use. Search is so good now that it almost seems unnecessary. As long as it has taken for me to figure this out, it has taken me almost no time at all to drop services that don’t enable absolute search ease. I can’t handle milling about in a repository (or even in iTunes) trying to find what I am looking for. If it isn’t right there, I no longer see the value in looking further (with a few notable exceptions like important benefits information in legacy systems). Search algorithms I am dependent on and they are freely available to all, and hopefully always will be.
- Zemanta – Along with search, I have come to rely on the power of suggestion. Zemanta recommends images, links and ideas based upon whatever I am writing in an e-mail or in a blog post. This is the killer addition to my brain which is looking constantly to connect to other things that are out there. Making these connections is now a great part of my life and whenever I have something to help me in the process, I feel the support of a network even if it is just a semantic analysis of the things I am already writing.
Things I pay for that I could live without:
- DirecTV service – I have really enjoyed my time using their DVR, but I really only record shows on about a dozen networks. Much of this content is now on Netflix and local stations which provide HD content free of charge.
- Home Phone Service – I know that many people have forgone this luxury, but the bundling of services has really kept this one in the mix for me. It makes other things cheaper and it is always nice to call someone back on a “landlane” when all else fails. Cell phones and VOIP have all but killed this one off.
- All of my hardware – I could give up my cell phone, my ipad, my ipod touch, my laptop, and my netbook. While none of these things have a subscription cost associated with them, none of those individual pieces of technology hold my most important information or workflows. I now have a copy of my entire workflow syncing between browsers, cloud-based folders, and housed on a series of easily copied usb sticks. I don’t have to worry about anything getting lost. So long as I have a single device that connects to the internet, I can respond to e-mail, edit documents, and generally be productive.
If I ever had to pay for the things on the first list, I would. I wouldn’t be too happy about it, but they are too important to let go fallow in my life.