I make my living through technology. Everything I do is digital and virtual: web sites, writing, publishing, photography, art. I often feel severed from the food on my table, the dirt under my feet, the weather outside the big windows of my office.
This 'weltschmerzen' is problematic. I love the Internet. The innovation; the power to transform societies, communities and businesses; the empowerment of the individual; the sense of belonging to a global family; the sudden and deep friendships formed online. All of these benefits make me feel engaged and enthusiastic in my web design and publishing business 13 years after starting it.
The flip side of computing, however, is creating a dark streak of cynicism, like a black hole gargling the Google galaxy with insatiable appetite. The manipulation, the monopolies, the marauding powers of government to muscle its way into these data repositories for secret surveillance without our knowledge or consent: the opportunity for this technology to be able to negatively affect our lives is in direct relation to our dependency upon it.
Cloud computing brings with it an even sharper blade to hack at the ragged edges of the hole. Cloud computing is where our software and data is stored online and not on our resident computers: subscription-based software, medical tools, backup systems, our contacts file, email, documents, photos... everything.
The benefits are clear. Dumb terminals and snazzy monitors, along with an instant restore of lost data is a vast improvement over being held hostage by the computer manufacturers, in collusion with software companies. How many times have you discovered an upgrade of software means your current computer's operating system and memory is no longer up to the task and must be replaced?
Everyone going it alone creates massive e-waste, huge costs for endlessly updating equipment and software that take egregious advantage of buyers, and creates a barrier to participation for many people who could most benefit from the empowerment of the digital age.
The downside is nebulous and previously the rantings of conspiracy theorists. The constant barrage of data slamming around the Internet leaves us exposed to risks unimaginable even a generation ago - identity theft, mass profiling, pitting of citizen against citizen, citizens against corporations and/or governments (sometimes it seems those are the same animal).
For people accustomed to privacy, to discretion, to look-before-you-leap, moving to the cloud seems fraught with dangerous possibilities. For the first to throw themselves through any open door to see what life is like on the other side, the drawbacks often aren't encountered until it's too late. Think the Amazon Cloud going down a few weeks ago, or all the recent hacks into user databases for credit card data, passwords and other private information.
What's my take? On a personal basis, I take comfort in the masses, and compute that the chances I'll be a victim are lowered inversely by the numbers of people coming online. I am but one tiny minnow swimming in a vast ocean. In 14 years of working online, I have only ever had my information hacked once, way back when RealAudio was king of multimedia. My bank notified me immediately and sent me a new card right away.
I suggest, however, that those of a more conservative bent give it another 6 months to a year and keep your cards to your chest. This is how I treat my customers' data - I stand in as 'canary in the coal mine'. If I live then likely you will too. If I don't, I suspect I'll wish I was really dead!
Let's meet up in six months or so and compare stories from the front.