The Cloud is an abstract, high-level concept aimed to obscuse the complexities of modern digital infrastructures. It allows us to talk about something that is incredibly complex and intricate it as it was a singular thing.

The cloud seems to be accepted. Just before the word server had a chance become mainstream and more and more people questioned what the Internet really was, we got ‘the cloud’. The cloud made all the questions go away. The cloud was a safe word. One that everyone already had a relationship to and one that even had a gesture, a hand pointing up, to the sky.

So we settled on this. Whenever anyone asks a difficult technical question, whether it’s about privacy or implementation, we can just point up – to the sky and say the cloud. Ah. Well, then. That settles it?

The cloud can solve all our problems. But for every difficult question or decision you don’t have to make. Someone else will. That someone may be a human, or it may be a robot. By the time artificial intelligence is making mission-critical decisions, it is probably already an automated, fairly predictable robot and not some new-thinking abstract idea.

But is this level of abstraction helpful? Helpful for who?

  • end users
  • designers
  • programmers and app developers
  • programmers and systems developers

I kind of think that the concept of the cloud is harmful for end users. It has over time compressed all the different activities and many common ‘object metaphors’ (See tweet by Gordon Brander) into a single, definitely ungraspable concept.

Alice: Where are your files stored? Bob: In the cloud? why? Alice: But where are they really stored? In what country? On what server? Bob: What do you mean on what server? What is a server? And I already told you they’re in the cloud! Alice: The cloud isn’t real Bob: What? Alice: The cloud is just a made-up concept to make people like us stop questioning where our digital lives are stored, and how it is used by corporations to make money from it. Bob: They can’t do that, surely?! Alice: You probably already agreed to let them, did you read all of the terms and conditions? Bob: Uhm… Alice: If you wanted to take your things to a different provider today, how would you do it? Bob: Different provider? Alice: Like, if you wanted all your photos and contacts and emails and document on your computer, instead of the cloud Bob: Can my computer do that? Alice: Your computer could, but can you?

Just came across this reference to a medieval English Christian mysticism text called The Cloud of Unknowing

‘the way to know God is to abandon consideration of God’s particular activities and attributes, and be courageous enough to surrender one’s mind and ego to the realm of “unknowing”, at which point one may begin to glimpse the nature of God’

Replace God with Technology? Cloud?



#definition #review