Digital Bum: Finding a Home/lessness on the Internet

By Artyom Bologov

Tom Hanks in The Terminal (2004, Steven Spielberg), playing a role of the traveler stuck in the airport, trying to survive on nothing but what he can attain in the terminal, and, eventually, get out.

A month-ish ago, Namecheap shut down my VPS because I forgot to pay for it. This VPS ran my Tripod blog server. Which means: my website has gone down for a quick minute.

Having this moment allowed me to re-evaluate what I want from my website and how I want to run it. I decided that

This small website outage inspired me to imagine myself a homeless Internet citizen owning no estate and living off the public services. Digital Bum, so to say. Even though it kinda diminishes the seriousness of the real-world bums, it is a good description of the free lunch lifestyle that I'm planning to have.

So I've set out to outline the ways Digital Bum can exist on the Internet, and what types of lifestyles they could have.

Unconscious Bum: Don't Know, Don't Care

You don't want to pay for anything—it's free and fully usable already.

Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need is in your soul
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simple Man

You're a normal person. You're not pretentious: if there's an easy way to do something, then it's the way you pick. You use Gmail because it works just fine and the interface is okay-ish. And Google account also comes with a productivity suite, so why not use their Docs, Spreadsheets, or whatever other things they provide?

If you need to create a website (usually just a landing page or portfolio) or write a long read—you reach for something simple, like Google Sites, WordPress, Blogspot, or Medium.

Your page is prefixed and postfixed by some or, but who cares? If anything, that's a sign of safety and quality—you're a real person with a real story on a real platform.

Your existence is effortless, and you believe that your web presence will last forever.

Crafty Bum: Will Fix… Hopefully

You don't want to pay for anything—you can make it fully usable yourself.

The only piece of technology in my house is a printer and I keep a gun next to it so can shoot it if it makes a noise I don't recognize.
Anecdotal saying about tech workers

You're a programmer or some other tech-savvy person. You know that Google and Facebook are unreliable and too slow to be of any use. You trust the products that value your productivity and give you control. It's cool if your tools also have some privacy guarantees, but that's not critical.

Gmail is okay, but Protonmail and Tuta(nota) privacy stance sounds a bit better to you. They have well-designed web interfaces and snappy native apps for your iPhone, too.

Your website on Github/Cloudflare/Gitlab Pages—it's simple and effective. You wrap your website into a cozy Cloudflare DDOS protection and CDN. Too convenient to refuse. The domain is okay too—this prefix means you set up CI and have mastered Git to push your content to the Web.

You often need to compute something, but Google Collab and other cloud computing tools by big reliable companies work just fine for you.

Your existence is meaningful and productive. Your content reaches your audience, especially your Twitter followers. Some CEO dick tries to break one of your tools once every while, but there are good drop-in alternatives, so you're absolutely safe.

Political Bum: In God We Do Not Trust

You don't want to pay for anything—you trust neither money nor institutions.

I don't know why.
They "trust me"
Dumb fucks.
Mark Zuckerberg, leaked personal communication

You've seen the enshittification of Google, Facebook, and Twitter (which you've been part of the Exodus from.) Mastodon is much better—no ads, no algorithms, and no nazis on the prime time. This Rochko guy is shady, but there's not much he can enshittify on the Fediverse, right?

There are free (as in speech, but as in beer too!), ethical, decentralized/federated, and community-run alternatives to all the vital services you need:

Google Suite
Github/Cloudflare Pages
Toldeverse, HelioHost, IPFS, Codeberg Pages, Sourcehut Pages
Disroot, HelioHost email, Riseup
Gitea, Codeberg, and Forgejo.
Matrix, XMPP, Signal.

Your website runs on IPFS, and you got your domain from or EURid.

Your life is somewhat clunky because the UX of all these services you use is not perfect. But you're ready to bear with minor inconvenience for the privacy and reliability your tools provide. You're certain that your setup will last for long. At least until some major Internet catastrophe.

Apocalyptic Bum: Watching Your Back

You don't want to pay for anything—everyone will pay their share of blood and tears soon, so why settle for money?

Danger angel
Black circles in the sky
There's nowhere left to run now
There's no place left to hide
With grim anticipation
The shadow bends behind
Descending like a sundown
And the night will leave you blind,
Look out
Larkin Poe, Danger Angel

You've seen shit. Solar storms, Atlantic cable, Y2K bug, plastic islands. Humanity's communication (and survival, but hush!) facilities are severely limited. Any minor disruption—war, electricity outage, extremely bad weather—and everyone's involuntarily off the grid.

No technology is reliable, so you rely on as little of it as it's even possible:

Your life is continuously endangered, but so it everyone else's. The only difference is: you're aware.

Whoa, whoa, slow down maybe?

Okay, this last one was a bit over the top. But still, the life of a Digital Bum is a point on the spectrum outlined above.

I myself stopped on a paid domain (I'm still waiting for my one), GitLab Pages hosting, and Disroot email.

My journey got me throught the deserted lands of paid VPS-es, privacy-endangering productivity suites, and mail hostings—to a (potentially) free lifetime European domain, community-maintained email server, and a static hosting for my HTML compiled from Lisp. No, from C preprocessor, actually.

What'll your journey be?