future proof

I won’t say I spend a lot of time worrying about and preparing for an impending zombie and/or non-zombie-related apocalypse, but I do occasionally consider what might happen if the lights were to suddenly go dark. I’m sure if this were to actually happen, I’d be more immediately concerned with keeping my family safe from riotous murderers and/or blood-thirsty undead than I’d be about the collateral damage to my personal productivity, but a nerd’s got to be prepared, right?

Well, maybe you’re not a whack-a-doodle in a zombie bunker. Maybe you’re not quite ready to be stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. Sure, I get that. Maybe we should dial it back a bit and relate to something a bit more ‘clear and present danger’.

The Plight of Caolo

Instead, imagine you’re a staunch Google opponent and you’ve just watched them purchase your favourite task management software for the development/design talent and then shut it down in short order.

Or, what if you paid for a one year membership with some awesome new web service that solves a problem you didn’t even know you had, but the founders didn’t have a clear business plan and needed to close the doors a few months in?

“Whatever I use within the computer, I must be resigned the notion that it will ultimately fail, because it always has.” —CJ Chilvers

Consider Dave Caolo, editor at TUAW and co-host of the Home Work podcast on 5by5. Dave has gone on record sharing his struggles and frustration with digital photo management. He thought he had it all sorted when he signed up for Everpix, only to have them shut down a short time after he had paid for an account and had just finished uploading 14,000 photos to their servers. I still don’t think he’s found a solution that works for him.

In this frustration, Caolo is Everyman.

As users, we’re screwed. There is little-to-nothing we can do in these scenarios. This risk is ever-present with applications and services we use at no financial cost and whose business model is uncertain. But recent history has shown us that even paid options are at risk to go away without notice.

“What I am saying is that no one cares about your data as much as you do. Want to use a cloud synchronization service? Go for it. But have a local backup of your information, and know how to get your stuff out of your chosen platform before you are forced to.” —Brooks Duncan

Am I suggesting you should just give up on all web services and apps? No. But realize that your cup is already broken. Know that when you go “all-in” on a service or application and feel like you cannot live without it, you might be in for some pain down the road. Unless you’re willing and able to build or at least maintain a product yourself, you’re at the mercy of those who control it and there’s no guarantee that their values and goals match your own.

Minimum Viable Process

One solution to this problem, at least in part, is to work on process before adding product. We can try to distill our systems down to their most basic essence before expanding or incorporating any applications. This would help to ensure we have a system that is scalable, adaptable and portable to any environment or scenario. Nick Wynja might call this scaffolding.

“We need to think about the tools that we have available and be assessing which ones are relevant for the work that we need to do. We need to be smart about choosing what fits together to build the right scaffold for the job at hand.” —Nick Wynja

For example, if we first figure out how we can get work done on a system built on pen and paper, we can then scale those rules and processes to any application or in any situation. In the unfortunate event that a keystone app in your system is suddenly sunset, you can move with minimum discomfort to a new app. Or, if Cupertino is overrun by a horde of flesh-eating zombies, you can scale it all the way back to the Fisher Space Pen and the box of Field Notes you store in your safe house.

I use a large square-grid Moleskine as a “Hybrid Journal” that is basically just a personalized combination/adaptation of Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal, Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus, and apps Day One and Omnifocus. Day One serves as a pretty backup of the daily log and Omnifocus provides reminders and tracks projects. These apps are nice to have, but the system is not reliant on them. Either or both could be removed without affecting the basic journal concept.

There is no such thing as “Future-Proof”. Whether it’s zombies or Google or even some other, non-sinister cause, something in your current system is going to break. Nothing lasts forever. You can either choose to be upset or be prepared for when it happens.