Plain Text

Despite majoring in computer science and being born after the release of WiFi I have increasingly found myself overwhelmed by the complexity of commonplace software. Words that come to mind: overchoice, walled-garden, overlap, confusing, lack of control, impermanent, slow, and definitely not private.

In some instances, the complexity is necessary and useful. I would not like a Civ VI that was "simple." But there are many instances where the complexity is not necessary and is decidedly not useful.

Just think of modern JavaScript overload with auto-play videos, prompts to join an email list, pop-ups to accept an invasion of privacy, auto-updating "trending" sidebars, useless notifications (name and shame: LinkedIn), prompts to disable your adblocker--and this is when you just want to read an article!

Anyway, as I was getting more overwhelmed by visual overload and other things included in the above word dump I found myself gravitating more towards RSS readers, sites like Hacker News, and taking notes in .txt files. I found myself on subreddits like r/datahoarders, r/selfhosted, and r/piracy not because I didn't want to pay for services but because they were simply not what was best for the user. Offline, instant, clutter-free access was too good to pass up. I would pay for it if it was available, but it isn't.

My latest foray into simplicity has been plain text accounting, ledger-cli specifically. I couldn't keep all of my retirement, checking, savings, PayPal, brokerage, Venmo, etc. accounts straight in my head and the last thing I wanted was to sign up for another bloated service to manage them all (I briefly tried Mint, and hated it).

With ledger-cli I am able to track all of my money and have total control, especially since I know how to write my own scripts to interact with the data. It's also reassuring to be able to export or backup all my financial data by clicking "Print."

I'm trying to reduce things to plain text as much as possible, whether that means a text file or pen and paper. Most of my school notes are plain text (taken on an AlphaSmart and then printed), this site is plain text, my finances are plain text, my news is plain text (or physical), and my communication is basically plain text (Signal, not Snapchat). I feel like I have wrested back control over my data and can better conceptualize it in my mind. It's hard to place a cloud-based auto-updating log of transactions and graphics in your mind, but it's easy to understand a text file when you could just as easily represent the data on a sheet of paper. I don't even have to use a UI to backup my data offsite--just "git push".

If you're intested in seeing me try to replace my online tools with 1) a physical alternative 2) a secure offline alternative and 3) a secure online alternative check out this text file.


My most recent tool for working with plain text documents, markdown specifically, is Obsidian.md.