“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of The Future
Through my association with Technology Voice and John Breslin a lot of my attention over recent years has been drawn to the promise that cloud computing holds. Ireland for geographic and meteorological reasons is developing enormous server hosting facilities for cloud services with Microsoft, in particular, leading the way.
Up until now it has all been rather academic. Most cloud services work for me the way my web hosting service or remoter server — as information to be accessed from my device or from some other remote terminal. Most of the time I blithely interact with that information and it is only when I lack wireless access do I really have to contemplate that all that information is one step removed from my direct manipulation.
This week I upgraded to OS X Lion. It came out at the beginning of last summer and having been caught out before by diving in immediately and downloading new software releases and ending up in early adopter hell — A place where everything has great promise but doesn’t really work — I thought I would wait a while and see what the reports were like from the front line.
I was pleased I did because the upgrade broke a good few programs that I have come to rely on. But after six months I decided it was finally time to make my move.
This isn’t a review of OS X Lion except to say one thing: it seems that an overwhelming amount of criticism of the system seems to have come from people who want something new and different but still want things to be familiar and samey.
I would say that 90% of the complaints come from people who didn’t have the gumption or wit to spend a bit of time in the settings to figure out how things really worked and then customize the command and control processes for themselves.
But so much for those who employ the keyboard first, think later strategy.
(Not that I don’t have my own gripes. Whoever decided to remove the Save as… function in Preview is a &^%*. And no, natural scrolling isn’t natural at all. Logical — yes, natural — afraid not.)
I spent a little time setting up the system just-so for myself and then went for a walk by the beach. A bitingly cold walk along the Atlantic shore is a remarkably effective method for cleaning the cobwebs from the brain — highly recommended.
It was beautiful in the sunshine.
After years spent fiddling with professional camera equipment I have come to love smartphone cameras. Getting the picture is the only real point of photography and these little gadgets really do capture help me capture moments that would have been otherwise lost to faffing about.
So, I took a few snaps of the low-hanging, winter sun over the hills of Clare and tried to capture how its reflection shimmered and glowed on the surface of the sea in Galway Bay.
I had played with Photostream while setting the system up that morning and hadn’t seen the point but now I did—I am now hosting myself across my devices.
I know that this has been possible for a long time. I use Dropbox and Google Docs for keeping tabs on documents that are being updated by myself and others. But the difference here is the ‘seamlessness’ of the experience. I now have a system that works for me rather than for me having to make work.
I think this ease, which is akin to the frictionless experience they are striving for at Facebook but is definitely not the same, takes us one step closer to Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future.
More and more of us have more than one computer with wireless access (I include smartphones here,) but our use is compartmentalized. We have tended to use these devices in a manner dictated by their onboard capability.cc
With the inevitable advent of cloud computing we have come to a key stage in our journey along the digital highway. Or, a major ‘strategic inflection point‘ as Andy Grove would say. How information is handled is now becoming independent, to a greater and greater extent, of the tools that we use for processing it.
With my devices interlinked in this manner my only consideration now is their form, pocket-sized, bag-sized, desk-sized etc., and their performance.
Apart from releasing us from sync-slavery, it frees up designers and engineers to do new and different things with our devices and be able to take advantage of the ongoing unshackling process that cloud computing represents.
Our devices become access points to our digital lives. But along with this decentralization of our information could there be concurrent decentralizaton of our own lives?
Our information is no longer in orbit around us. Technically, we may be nodes in the system but we are no longer geocentric bodies somehow different distinct from the information we access and produce.
Because of cloud computing we now exist in a continuum of information availability, where in a real as well as a philosophical sense, it is going to be harder to tell where we end and information begins and vice versa.