More and more of my life is in the cloud. I’m not sure what the cloud is, or why the geeky powers-that-be have decided my life needs to be in it, but I know that from now on everything important that I do, say, write, listen to, or photograph will be stored up there, right beside ten million videos of cats dressed in baby clothes. My tech gurus have worked hard to convince me to adopt this new arrangement. Now, because all my data is in the cloud, I can access it from wherever I am. Whatever country I’m in, whatever device I’m using, as long as I have a connection to the world-wide-web I will also have access to all my recorded junk.
Imagine if instead we could have a cloud for all our actual physical junk. Rather than having to move three boxes and two old bicycles out of the way every time we wanted to get at our garden tools in the garage, we could simply store them in the cloud, nicely cataloged and searchable alphabetically, chronologically, and categorically. We wouldn’t even need to be at home to get our tools. We could be out in the middle of the woods on a camping trip and simply call on a shovel to fall out of the sky in order to dig a hole to bury our, you know, other stuff. Or better yet, we could retrieve our entire bathroom, complete with toilet and heated tile floor, whether we were in the woods or just some sleazy gas station whose toilet is missing its seat and paper roll.
How great would it be if whenever I had some time to kill I could instantly retrieve my guitar and practice a few songs? I’m sure the people on the park bench next to mine would love this. But how would I feel if they were inspired by my singing to retrieve their bagpipes, or banjos, to try to play along with me — or more likely, drown me out?
The nice thing about the cloud is that everyone can have their own custom made accumulus. Each of us can be in our own bubble, surrounded by our own thoughts, feelings, memories and favorite music all the time, everywhere. Plug in your noise-canceling headphones and you can drown out the world and live inside your own fogbank. This is becoming the de facto standard of today’s world. Everyone walks around staring down at their own little screens, in touch with their own little news feed and cloud of information, completely integrated with everything they have ever thought, and everyone they have ever liked, and completely separate from anyone else on the street and in the room with them.
The cloud is fuzzy, and our logic for wanting to live in the cloud is also pretty fuzzy. Let’s put aside the very real possibility that the cloud might one day evaporate. Yes, a nuclear pulse or even a bad sunspot might disrupt our cloud. And anyone who has ever been in a crowd of people at a big concert or political rally knows how spotty cell phone reception can be. The power fails, or worse yet, the people in power are failures and allow some cyber-monster, whether individual or corporate — to access all our data. What will they do with it? Corrupt it, erase it, or mine it to sell us more stuff, or sell us down the river? Putting our lives in the cloud makes us vulnerable not only to meteorologists, with their terrible records of forecasting, but also to shysters, hucksters, blizzards of nerds, and hurricanes of government surveillance.
No, I’d rather have my mess in my garage, where I can keep track of it and trip over it at my own pace, and in my own good time. I would rather be able to escape all my crap by leaving it behind occasionally and going on vacation, or just walking down the street to the coffee shop and leaving it for a half-hour break. I don’t want it following me around everywhere I go, reminding me of all the bad decisions I’ve ever made, of all the careless purchases, drunken one-night stands, and unfinished projects. I don’t want to leave open the possibility that some evil genius, or criminal hacker might post compromising photos of me smoking banana peels, or hanging my children upside down over a plate of uneaten broccoli.
Leave the clouds to the weathermen, or to the gods of sea and thunder. Leave your devices for your jobs, or for emergencies. Look up from your screens and see the sky. Today it’s very blue and the sun is shining.