Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Embracing the Cloud

I was a Gen-X kid. I grew up with vinyl records, 8-track and then cassette tapes, and saw my first music CD when I was in high school. I saw my first cell phone then, too. It the size of a brick and just about as heavy. I witnessed the rise of VHS and the deaths of Betamax and Laserdisc. I remember being in elementary school when my father was showing off his first pocket calculator to the other dads. It was actually small enough to fit in his shirt pocket! (Barely.)

Then came digital watches and clocks, and the ensuing controversy over whether kids would someday forget how to read an analog clock. (The horror!) My father introduced me to computers at a young age also, by way of his second wife who was a computer programmer. Macs were new and exciting then, but she preferred Commodore 64. I spent countless hours playing games on those computers, programming page after page of code that I had copied from magazines, hoping that some new game would be the one to finally live up to the picture on the cover. (They never did)

Being more tech-savvy than most of my generation, the transition into the digital age has been easier for me than it was for most of my peers. I started building PCs around 1992, mostly out of curiosity and a driving need to have the best graphics and computing power available. I started with a 20 megabyte hard drive and 2 megs of ram. That system didn't have the computing power to run DOS and Word for DOS at the same time. But I needed a good word processor because typewriters weren't going to cut it for me, so I stood in line waiting to get into the computer show at the fairgrounds for the latest upgrades. (There wasn't anywhere else to get them; Brick and mortar stores didn't carry computer parts back then and the internet barely existed).

The computer shows only came around a few times a year, so it was always an event. I was walking around the display tables with twenty or thirty other customers in those early days, but by the time Amazon.com came along, those shows were getting several thousand visitors a day. Best Buy, CompUSA, and Circuit City were all the rage.

Now, I write all my books on computers and make my living publishing them online. That's a long way from VHS. But despite my eagerness to embrace new technologies, I've always been a little suspicious of the "The Cloud." Part of that may be because the first time I ever heard of it was through Microsoft's concept of selling me software that I would never ever actually own. I was already irritated by their rights-grabs when it came to my Windows operating systems, and the fact that they would even dream of making me long onto their website before I could use my own program made me blow a gasket. It still does. When I pay for a song, I expect to be able to listen to it anywhere. Same with my O.S. and my word processor.

But Microsoft never really did realize that dream, and in the meanwhile, The Cloud has evolved into something different. I hadn't thought about it much until this last year, when I realized that I was taking for granted the fact that I could log into Amazon from anywhere and effortlessly download any of the music or Kindle books I had purchased. No cables, no USB drives, and no syncing. No heachaches. I've actually started taking for granted the fact that if my laptop crashes, I can easily download all of that stuff again in minutes.

I've gone from demanding a hard copy of everything -from my operating system to my music to the latest World of Warcraft expansion pack- to just being grateful that it's all stored safely on a series of redundant servers hundreds of miles away, and available to me almost instantly no matter where I go. I've even been considering taking advantage of Amazon's cloud service to back up all of my family photos and books. That way, if something terrible like a massive power surge or a natural disaster should happen, my important documents and photos would be safe.

How and when did this happen to me? When did I evolve into a person willing to store digital copies of my most prized possession  in some dark mysterious corner of cyberspace, where it's completely out of my control, without so much as a backup CD under my desk? I'm not sure.

The truth is, I'm still struggling with it a little. After all, when my PC crashes, I do still need a hard copy of Windows or at least Linux to get it up and running. And I can't stand the thought of not having backup copies of my books stored in multiple places, both in reality and in cyberspace. Ten years from now, I might look back on this moment the way I look back on the time I took 400 cassette tapes to the pawnshop downtown and walked out of there with $40 in my pocket. Only this time, I won't feel like I got ripped off, because I won't have to replace all those cassettes with CDs.The new format is FOREVER.

Unless of course, a massive solar flare causes an EMP that wipes out every electronic device on the planet. But if that happens, I'll have bigger problems than missing out on Wrath of the Lich King and Disneyland pictures. Maybe I can use all that old video and CD storage space as a seed vault....