Tell Tale Tech: Cloudy Days


(Lucy Sutton/Observer Archives)


The clouds have rolled in and taken over much of our digital lives by storm. From Google Drive to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, clouds are seemingly everywhere. Personally, I’m against the trend, as I find they’re really not all that intuitive or practical to use.

The concept of the cloud is difficult to explain partially because there are just so many things that technically fit that description. At a basic level, they are simply online storage solutions. However, some more comprehensive clouds can be used for aggregating raw data, as in the case of an online database. Still others can differ based on whether they are private or publicly accessible. For the purposes of most students though, the cloud is a way to store files and information online.

This broad definition is probably the most confusing aspect of clouds. To clear this up, the way a student uses the cloud needs to be differentiated from the way a data collection company uses it and vice versa. Call it online storage. Maybe call it a nebula. The name doesn’t matter as long as it’s different.

It really doesn’t make sense to group everything under the same category, simply because the basic technology is the same. This would be like referring to everything that uses electricity as an “electric”. Sure, this would tell you that it uses electricity. But that’s it. The name does very little to describe what the object actually does. By this logic, an “electric” could refer to anything from a toaster to a Tesla. This would undoubtedly cause widespread confusion. Also, good luck driving that toaster anywhere.

There is a problem with the reliability of clouds as well. I will admit that the concept seems convenient and relatively foolproof. Just log in to an account and everything is right there. And when this works, it’s great. Sharing documents on Dropbox, storing photo collections on Flickr and streaming music from Spotify are all solid applications of this technology.

Unfortunately, everything does not always go so smoothly.

Connection issues, compatibility problems and file size limitations can easily wreak havoc on any of these services. While there are workarounds for the most part, these all require a special kind of patience; a patience which I’m not sure many people have.

Also, when your clouds collide, things tend to get quite messy. It is a constant battle to keep everything separate from each other, and inevitably your accounts will become intertwined. Even if you only slip once, your information and data could sync to unwanted accounts. And we all know the problems that can cause.

In light of all these drawbacks, I advocate for the use of portable and physical storage, such as flash drives or external hard drives. There isn’t anything flashy or marketable about them, but they are more reliable and easier to manage.

I still use my flash drive for nearly everything. I don’t have to worry about signing in and out of my account each time I need a file. There’s no delay in transferring information either, and they are extremely portable as well. And barring some catastrophic event, it is highly unlikely for a flash drive to ever crash on me.

To me, clouds seem like progress for the sake of progress. While there is a need for cloud-like services at an enterprise and professional level, most people have very little reason to use them other than for online storage. For this reason, consumer-oriented online storage products should rebrand themselves as such to help clear the confusion.

In the meantime, go pick up a flash drive and enjoy not having to worry about clouds of any kind for awhile. Unless there’s bad weather. Definitely keep an eye out for that.