rex-ambassador

On safety razors

I recently switched over from the ubiquitous cartridge razors to double-edge safety razors. The original impetus was not finding a non-charging base for my GiletteLabs Heated Razors - the battery in the stem made it too wide for most razor holders - and noticing that a lot of reviews swear by various safety razors.

I ended up buying the Rex Ambassador1 a few months ago - and then held off on actually using it, telling myself I need to learn how to properly use it first. In the end I told myself I would stop using my Gilette the day after the US Presidential Election, and start using the safety razor the morning after the US Presidential Election is finally called – which was Sunday the 8th, with a nice 5-day stubble to test it on.

The first shave went surprisingly smoothly; the next few shaves ended with some minor mishaps - cockiness and distraction getting in the way - but overall there is no way I’m going back to cartridge razors after this. Feeling more in control, getting a closer shave, no plastic waste to dispose – and hey much lower total cost of ownership!

… and technology

There seems to be a parallel here between the world of personal care and that of technology:

  • most people are trapped on proprietary, heavily marketed solutions (cartridge razors, proprietary operating systems, apps and services)
  • these proprietary solutions are at first glance more user friendly
  • the more open solutions have a steeper learning curve but are eventually more empowering
  • vendor lock-in
  • the incentives for the manufacturers/vendors and customers/users are not aligned

Think Windows on one side, vs Linux (and the BSDs) on the other (with macOS initially being in the middle and increasingly swaying to becoming even more constraining than Windows). Think proprietary gaming consoles and mobile IAP-chasing games, vs game platforms that encourage participation like TIC-80 and LÖVE. Think US-centric proprietary social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and services (Dropbox, Google Suite) vs distributed social networks (Mastodon, Pleroma, Diaspora etc.) and self-hosted services (Nextcloud, Cryptpad etc.).

What are most people sacrificing to the altar of promised convenience? Literally both time and money: our attention, higher costs; also our autonomy (you’re locked in) and our privacy (… so platform owners can mine your attention and monetize what they observe of your behavior).

If you believe in capitalism, this is bad news. If you don’t it’s even worse.

So what can we do?

Part of the solution is regulatory. In the EU, a recent ECJ ruling requires EU companies to stop using US-based cloud services to host data from EU citizens. This could help push the adoption of more open, user-empowering, privacy-friendly alternatives.

But in other jurisdictions like the US, regulation might be a long time coming, except maybe in California (plus the companies we’re trying to unshackle users from are mostly US-based). So a lot of the solution has to be bottom up.

We simply need to lower barriers to entry, both actual and perceived, to using the platforms we’re championing. Some involve compromises (e.g. Flatpak is a great way to abstract away the differences between Linux distributions, to the point that it’s easier to install proprietary apps, including Steam – which improves the availability of games on Linux despite, yes, being proprietary). Some involve corporate backing (e.g. Fedora on Lenovo laptops). A lot would involve being more welcoming to newcomers, and bridging the actual usability gaps there are.

It’s hard enough to overcome incumbency and the network effect. Let’s not make it harder for ourselves.

This post is day 5 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

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  1. Not a product placement, honest! ↩︎