My digital life in plaintext

Over the last few years, I have moved my complete digital life into plaintext. The idea is to store all data as simple text that can be accessed and edited by any text editor. This plaintext data can then be used with other analysis/rendering tools.

The philosophy behind using plaintext is to:

  • have complete control over the data
  • not end up in a vendor lock-in
  • minimize loss of data when switching tools
  • increase searchability
  • fine grained control on encryption
  • allow flexibility

Why did I adopt plaintext?

The most common reasons for switching tools so often is:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Boredom
  3. Procrastination
  4. Shiny new toy syndrome.

If I find a new tool/software, I am drawn towards testing it out for my use-case. Over time, this habit caused me a lot of pain in learning how these tools work and adopting it into my workflow. When switching between the different tools, I ended up losing large chunks of data. Not to mention the time invested in learning and unlearning the tools.

Making my digital life plaintext was a conscious decision to regain control of my digital life. Naturally, a bunch of tools that are UI focused became a big no-no. Saving me from exploring tools that were heavily UI focused. I now had a smaller range of tools to choose from.

Flexibility was a major advantage of such a system. I could now configure the process in line with the way I worked. Without being limited due to the tools I choose. (More about this in the future post where I discuss my setup). The downside was that any new feature I required had to be programmed in. This requires an initial investment of time, but in the long run, the system is designed to work for me.

What I need and How

As a Ph.D. student, my work requires mainly:

  • coding
  • writing
  • making presentations
  • organization tools
  • ability to easily manage finances
  • reading and capturing information
  • email

And, all these can be maintained using plaintext files for me.

What I need to handle all my data files is a reliable editor. After experimenting with several editors: Sublime, Atom, etc.. I’ve settled with Emacs. I can synchronize all these files using a cloud service of my choice (Nextcloud) and have access to all my data across all my devices.

In the future, I plan to write more about my workflow, tools, and configurations, where I am trying to create a second brain1.

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