a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Cloudy thinking

Time for a bit of editorializing. Actually, though, today’s topic isn’t exactly as far off as it might seem. I’m talking about this much-ballyhooed concept of “the cloud.”

As readers from the past know, I personally prefer paper books to eReaders as a general rule. I want to own the book. As readers learned a while ago when their copies of Animal Farm and 1984 (irony of ironies) disappeared from their electronic devices, owning the bits isn’t the same as owning the book.

It’s not just that they can’t withhold the book. They can change text without your knowing. Think that could only happen in the former USSR or North Korea? Then, hey, go to eBay and check this out.

But worse is the trend towards “the cloud,” or the idea of storing all apps as well as files and operating system software remotely. Everything that makes your computer your computer would be…somewhere else, which you don’t control. It’s being hailed as something new and awesome, but as the song goes, everything old is new again. Back in the 70s/80s they called them “dumb terminals–the computers, at any rate, that would now be useless pieces of plastic unless they were plugged into this great daddy cloud in which all the data and apps reside. Even Apple, the consumer technology company I most respect, is now hyping “cloud computing,” which I think is the stupidest idea since traffic calming. Traffic calming is the stupidest idea since giving Sonny Bono a solo comedy show, but I digress.

Computers were meant, like books, like libraries, to empower the people. (I hate that cliched word “empowered,” but it’s true.) And now we’re handing the content and the applications over, willingly, to people we don’t know, who will “safe-keep” it in planes we know not where, with encryption we do not understand. You can trust us.

Because, uh, everyone from private corporations to the government has such a great track record when it comes to trust and truth. And when it comes to not meddling in citizens’ private affairs.

This embrace of  “cloud technology” has even me astonished. Did we not learn anything from Animal Farm, where the rules as posted on the barn wall (I believe it was the barn wall…it’s been a while) keep changing to suit the leaders? (“No one may sleep on a bed with sheets.”) I’m sure it will be called nothing more than a “technical glitch” when your online copy of Gore Vidal won’t load while the latest Fox News postings pop right up. Or when that history book you could swear used to have fifteen chapters now has fourteen. Or even just something like this.

Already zealots of  Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have tried to alter history online with their respective claims that the Founders fought tirelessly to end slavery and Paul Revere fired off shots and rang bells as he warned the British they were not going to take away our arms…or something. Of course anyone can go to an encyclopedia and refudiate this. That’s the beauty of print.

Bu the cloud isn’t just about print. It’s about turning over the keys to all our software might. To some ephemeral place. Again, you think this can’t happen? You think William Randolph Hearst wouldn’t have liked to have had Citizen Kane in bits on a nice cloud somewhere? You think the IRS, which already strips people of their finances if it just suspect you owe them taxes, wouldn’t also strip them of the ability to challenge their accusers or  have their voices of protest heard? Then you really didn’t get the point of Orwell.

And of course, after they effectively  take our computers from us, they will then charge us to access them. What used to be available for free on our hard drives will now become subscription-based. And they will tell us how much better off we are because of it.

AND I’m sure you will have to watch several minutes of ads before you’re even allowed access to your desktop. Think you can just walk away during that period? Not when cameras that can scan your retinas and tell whether you are actually looking at the screen are installed on the top of every screen. You think this is wild science fiction? Companies are working on this right now.

If that isn’t scarier to you  than a Stephen King boxed set, then maybe this is.

Or this.

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