Storm Cloud or Silver Lining?

[July 30, 2010]

A lot has already been written about “the cloud” and I wouldn’t think of adding more smoke to the screen. That is, except that I’ve started to obsess about its eventual impact on civilization. If we survive Y3K, will we be better off as stateless citizens of the digital haze?

In many respects, the ability to access thousands of units of digital content wherever you go, means you can always be “in your own world.” Carried to the extremes imagined by sci-fi writers like Alastair Reynolds, we might learn how to superimpose our own personal reality on everything we see and do. Things outside our normal frame of reference would be “skinned” to conform.

Cozy in a terrifying kind of way.
By taking all the comforts of home everywhere, we’d be psychologically safe but potentially stagnant. Because, as most people eventually realize, life only begins the moment the floor caves in. Without anything to challenge your worldview, without anything to alter your vision of which end is up, you’d end up a prisoner of your formative experiences.

Judging from the last 10 years, there’s enough of that going around for my taste. And yet…

Consider Zohowriter, one of many other cloud applications available. Like millions of other people, I find the ability to make a few notes in one location on one device and retrieve them hours later somewhere else on something else—is a lifesaver for creativity. That’s “creativity,” mind you, defined in the broadest possible terms: I mean whatever mental process keeps you in touch with your heart of hearts.

Like every other technology, cloudware is to be used responsibly. The sometimes nightmarish worlds created by Reynolds and other sci-fi writers depend on a vision of technology evolving out of pace with cultural, ethical and moral standards.

Floating above responsibility?
Not that there isn’t plenty of evidence of this right now—as millions of people are cut off at the knees by the selfish incompetence of boorish oil executives. Their “What-Me-Worry?” view of social responsibility falls far short of basic human decency. And yet…

I can’t help thinking the benefits, in terms of personal freedom, mobility and access to multiple interpretations of “the truth and the way,” are worth the risks. For one thing, “the cloud” is partially responsible for exposing the callousness of so many people in positions of power.

On the other hand, I suppose the bigger “the cloud” grows—the more corners and alleyways and cul-de-sacs it permeates—the more it could cause us to drift away from the gritty, hands-on experiences that brought us down from the trees. After all, there’s nothing like a real slap in the face to change your worldview.

I also worry about the homogenization of everyday experience—another process that was well underway, back when “the cloud” only emanated from TV sets. Is that Ronald Vishnu I roll over at McDonaldsIndia.com?

A reign of risks or benefits?
Will the constant availability of “my favorite things” make me not merely unwilling to try something new, but even unable to conceive of anything new? If, as I sometimes fear, the Facebookization of culture may soon make us all “Like” the same things, what will become of the challenges to our vision that make us grow? And yet…

Whenever I do have time to access creative project files that are so often on hold, I can delve into them immediately. No quills to cut, no inkwells to fill, no foolscap to unroll and, Lord knows, no clattering, heavy typewriter.

Ultimately, even in its simplest manifestations, “the cloud” is liberating, if only because it erases one more barrier between thought and realization. For that, I’m grateful.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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