Social media, cyber privacy and blog comments

investigation

Over the last year or so I have disabled the comments feature on my blogs due to my perception that generally comments do not add very much additional value to the original post and the extra work it requires to weed out spam and junk comments.

During this same time there has been increasing alarm across the internet regarding the snooping into user’s ‘digital fingerprints’, both by governments (particularly the United States NSA and affiliates) and by commercial interests who are targeting advertising and ‘user experience’ at us based on our previous browsing histories. I particularly notice the targeted advertising in the different advertising that I encounter at work compared to what I see at home because I use different browsers, operating systems and visit different websites in these two contexts.

Of concern to me is the use of social media profiles to track whatever websites I visit and the goal of those companies to ‘monetize’ me as a user. As the axiom goes: “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. I actually have hardly any money so these companies possibly pay more out in efforts to monetize me than I ever spend, but that’s beside the point. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but if I want to buy something I prefer to seek out information about my target purchase myself then take time to consider my options before choosing what or whether to buy.

Web advertisers have a very different take. They go to extraordinary lengths to steer internet users towards handing over their credit card details, having no qualms about manipulating us to that end. You may protest that often all they really want is for you to tweet a link or like something on facebook or give your email address. Unfortunately, while each of those actions may seem trivial, they give the tracking companies ever increasing leverage to present information in front of your eyes specifically tailored to cause you to click and browse ever closer to some looming button enticing you to ‘buy now and all your problems will be solved’.

I hate advertising. If something is truly good and does what it is designed to do well that product will become well known even without advertising. When I am seeking information or inspiration I’m happy to dig for it. Maybe that makes me weird.

So, given my own irritation at governments for using electronic communication tools to snoop on innocent citizens and huge companies for attempting to assign each of us a digital profile, I have chosen to kill off my Twitter and Facebook accounts. This does mean sacrificing potential avenues to notify people of any new blog posts I write and whatever stupid cat videos I’ve seen. More importantly, it cuts off any chance of interacting with the few who read my blog.

Therefore, I am activating the comments on this website for new posts. This is my digital soapbox, it may evolve into a stand-in for social media services with the advantage that I have complete control of what is posted and published. Feel free to comment, just keep it nice and family friendly (all comments are moderated).

On a related note, which you may or may not care about, I do not use any tracking codes or affiliate links (or, heaven forbid, advertising!) on this blog. What that means in plain english is that there are no hidden bits of computer code such as scripts or cookies that tell me, or anyone else, that you have visited the site. To my thinking these are yet another small betrayal of trust by webmasters in an attempt to gather information on whether each click on the site is from a new visitor or someone who has been here before, how long you spend on each page before moving on, the type of web browser and various other nuggets of data.

In truth, I can get some of that data directly from the server software powering the site; the server has to know where in the world you are in order to send the page information to your browser. It has to know what browser is being used so it can send that information coded in the appropriate manner for the browser to interpret. The server also knows what you click on so it can feed the linked page to your browser. That is more statistics than I care about frankly, and I hardly ever bother to look at it, so have no need to install Google analytics or any other tracking code. The same consideration to your right to privacy is why there are no social media ‘share’ buttons here. If you want to share a post just copy and paste the page address – easy!

A Few Relevant Links:

Straight razor shaving

straight razors

Adventures learning to use a straight razor

I first encountered the art of shaving with a straight razor on a blog called The Art of Manliness (which ‘real kiwi blokes’ probably don’t read) in a post called Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide. I was particularly attracted by the idea of not having to keep buying disposable razor cartridges at $5 each and the inherent waste disposable stuff:

Today’s modern shaving racket creates needless waste. When you’re done with a cartridge, you have to throw it out. When you buy new cartridges, you’re left with a ton of packaging material.

Then there were the promised benefits of a better shave and “You’ll feel like more of a bad ass”.

I ditched the shaving foam in a can many years ago as it is stupidly expensive and results in empty aerosol cans heading to the landfill. So in some ways it made sense to take another step towards reducing cost and waste by using a razor that simply requires re-sharpening rather than throwing plastic cartridges away every week.

Then there is the appeal of using such an ‘old school’ shaving method, a sort of re-establishing of links back how men have shaved for many hundreds of years before the invention of disposable razor blades. In opposition to the hurried, unthinking approach to personal grooming fostered by electric shavers and blister-packed blades with instant foam from a can, everything about using a straight razor forces me to take my time. With a blade sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel placed across your throat comes undivided focus on the task!

Believe or not, there is actually an entire web forum dedicated to straight razor shaving (Straight Razor Place). This is an excellent resource for learning what to look for in a razor, how to strop the razor to fine-tune the cutting edge and tips on how to shave without removing ears, nose or otherwise slicing your face to bits. The folks posting on this site extoll the virtues of straight razor shaving, claiming it to be the closest shave you will ever achieve.

Learning what gear is needed was one thing, getting it in New Zealand meant yet more scouring the internet to find retailers to buy from. Thankfully ordering online enables us to get stuff that would otherwise be difficult to obtain here.

So in mid-March my honed and stropped ‘shave-ready’ razor arrived and I opened it eager to venture into the world of an extraordinarily close shave with no razor burn… and on seeing the blade thought, “this is insane!” The idea of putting anything that sharp near my face freaked me out.

However, money talks – I had already paid for the razor and bought a strop so was committed. I needed learn how to use this gear in order to recoup my costs.

I began with baby steps, shaving my cheeks, the only flattish part of my face, finishing the rest with a regular razor. Over the next week I progressed to being able to shave my whole face without too many cuts. Shaving under the nose is particularly awkward, I can now see why Lord Voldemort got rid of his nose – it must make shaving much easier!

photo of a styptic pencil and small block of alum

After four months using a straight razor most days, I am usually able to do the job without drawing blood. At least when a razor like this does cut it is fine and clean so heals easily. However, a puncture repair kit consisting of an alum block and styptic pencil does come in handy for moments when I’m not concentrating.

Is it a brilliantly close shave? It can be. With care and multiple passes, I can get a very smooth shave, though this carries a risk of nicks by trying too hard to get an ultra smooth shave. To be fair though, if I do the same preparation and take my time with a regular cartridge razor I can also get an equally close shave. Overall though, I like having to take my time and be careful – shaving has become one of life’s little pleasures rather than the chore I previously viewed it as.

Pros & cons of straight razor shaving:

Pros:
  • Overall cost savings
  • Minimal waste
  • ‘Meditative’ shaving experience
  • Nostalgia
Cons:
  • Time required for each shave and care of razors
  • Upfront cost
  • Learning curve

For a lighthearted but not overly useful video, see How to Shave With a Straight Razor. For a more useful video, check out one of the recognised experts: Straight Razor Shaving for Beginners

Some NZ retailers for shaving gear:

A useful way to save on razor blades without going to the extreme of a straight razor is to get blades by mail order from Razor Blades NZ for around $12 per month. Another worthwhile approach is to use the old style double-edged ‘safety razor’ which was the predecessor of today’s cartridge blades. By sourcing the double-edged (DE) blades online the cost becomes very reasonable.

photo of a white ceramic shaving bowl with gold rim and a black synthetic badger hair shaving brush in the bowl