Everybody wants you to embrace the “cloud” — streaming your movies and music, storing your files on a cloud service, buying software and video games that “dial in” to a server in order to work, and more.
The idea is that all or part of the digital product you use is stored on the company’s servers. You have to connect to their computers to use the program, play the game, watch the movie, or whatever.
Maybe you love the connectedness, and how you can get whatever you want on any device. Or can you?
Here are three reasons I think this trend is dangerous, and why I’m working to avoid the “cloud”:
1) Internet is Never 100%
I live in the heart of the US of A, and the internet is not constant. Sometimes it goes down for no reason.
Our internet provider just sent us a new modem, so it’s been better for the last few days. But it still gets hung up on my YouTube videos sometimes.
My parents thought about buying a house where, because of the terrain and the location of providers, it was a dead zone for internet.
And that’s not even talking about the rest of the world.
My dad is always going on missions trips to places that have “questionable” internet…slow, choppy, or unpredictable.
Need to download this application? Hope you have a strong internet connection for long enough to pull down all the data.
Need to connect with a server, like an email server, web searcher, or DRM server? You’d better be able to connect…or you’re out of luck.
More and more developers are building their software to require a connection of some kind.
Whether it’s a web application (like a word processor that uses the Chrome engine, or my blog editor) or a game that phones home (either for DRM purposes, or to store your registration and play-time information, or to connect you with other players for multi-play)…more digital products want you to be connected.
Even ebooks have software that won’t let you read it unless you can “prove” you actually own it!
Diablo 3 was a famous video game disaster — on launch day, many players couldn’t even play the game because they had to connect to the developer’s servers…which were bogged down with all the people connecting for launch day (see the video here…language cautions). The debacle went on for months, with many players (especially in Europe) wanting their money back because they couldn’t even play the game. There were even lawsuits threatened.
If you live in a place with bad internet, it would be much nicer to get a program that you can download and use solely on your own device.
But that’s not what modern developers want. They want you to connect with them…in the name of convenience.
Even some smart-home devices and coffee pods are designed with DRM technology!
2) You Own Nothing
When at least part of the product you’re using (a movie, a song, a game, or a word processor) is on the “cloud,” then you don’t control that product.
I figure that, if I have to borrow my car engine from someone else every time I need to go somewhere, then I don’t really “own” my car…do I?
There is one obvious example of this:
If you happen to enjoy Gone With the Wind, but were hoping to stream it from a service like HBO-Max…you are now out of luck. Several services have taken it down due to political and SJW controversy.
If you want to show it to your Film History class or study the cultural ideas of a different time period – well, I hope you have a DVD or VHS somewhere!
Some streaming services have talked about “rotating” their catalogues, so different movies are available at different times.
In my own experience, we streamed Zootopia from Netflix one day – then a week or two later, it was unavailable for streaming (I think we could have ordered a DVD…but what would prevent us from just streaming it from their servers anymore?).
This happens to music, too.
Just recently, Apple Music decided to make a statement (of some kind) about black lives, and changed their “Radio” and “Browse” sections of their interface to a statement about solidarity, with a link to a live radio station with a program of black artists.
You can still access music from white artists in your own Library (music you’ve already bought) and search for it specifically.
But it reminds us of an important fact: When you store your digital stuff on someone else’s digital shelf…if they decide to deny you access to it, for any reason, then you are out of luck.
This isn’t just about culture wars and movies…
Revolv was a “smart home” hub that talked to an app on your phone to control lights and coffee pots in your house. Then Google acquired it – and promptly shut it down.
Without the cloud service to communicate with, the Revolv device is basically an expensive paperweight. If you loved the job it did controlling your household devices…too bad.
You’re out of luck.
This is basically like if Amazon went out of business and Alexa stopped working…except this actually happened.
If you don’t control every aspect of the device or program’s function, then you don’t really own it.
These are examples where, for their own reasons, companies decided to take away products and services you might have been counting on.
But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic:
3) Companies Aren’t Forever
EV [Escape Velocity] Nova was a spaceship game developed by Ambrosia Software. The trick is…you had to enter a code to prove you actually bought the game, and every so often you had to contact the company’s servers for a new code.
And now Ambrosia Software is out of business. According to Wikipedia, there wasn’t even an announcement — customers just found they couldn’t contact the company, and couldn’t buy any new products from them…and then the website went down.
It’s always sad to lose something you liked and found useful. But when the product you bought needs to connect to its parent company (through the internet) just to function, and then that company goes belly-up, you are – say it with me – out of luck.
Even ebooks have had this problem.
Once upon a time, Microsoft had their own ebook store. It never really took off, and they eventually shut it down. The problem, though, was that after they shut it down, they deleted ebooks from their customers’ digital libraries. Books that people had bought and paid money for were now unavailable to them.
On the bright side, Microsoft did refund their customers’ money. Still, because the ebooks on the customers’ digital shelves were still tied to Microsoft, when the company closed down the store, they were out of luck.
Clever programers can examine the code of their favorite programs or products to make work-arounds.
In fact, this is another reason why DRM – digital rights management – software is just annoying and not even useful…pirates and other free-livers will crack the code and distribute it anyway.
But…I am nothing like a clever programer, and chances are you aren’t either.
We want programs that just work…that we plug in or load onto our device, we click start, and they do what we want them to.
If the programs are self-contained, stand-alone products, then they can continue working even if the developers who built them have to shut down and move on.
I can still watch that movie even when there are no copies for sale, when the rest of the world has forgotten about it and won’t stream it.
There are episodes from the earliest days of Doctor Who that no longer exist.
The BBC threw away the tapes to save space, and because they never imagined the show would become the phenomenon it has.
People (old people, naturally) have seen episodes of the show that no one else can ever see because they aired on TV, and then disappeared.
Don’t Live in the Cloud
Technology has done a lot of cool stuff for us. But at the same time, it has dangers.
My dad talks about books he saw in stores when he was young and broke, then spent years searching for them once he could buy them. You can’t depend on being able to find it again…unless it lives on your shelf.
If you have a hard copy – a DVD; a paperback; a CD; an offline, downloaded program living solely on your device – then you really own the content you want to use.
Whether it’s a movie you love, a song, a spaceship game, or a word processor for writing your stories…as long as you know it lives on your shelf, not someone else’s, you will always be able to use it.
Even after civilization crashes and you’re running off your own electrical generator in your secure compound.
(Make sure you have back-ups to protect against the deterioration of your hard-drive…but bit-rot and such are a subject for another post!)
She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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