I got my first computer when I was around 10 years old. It was a ZX80 clone with a whopping 64K of RAM. I had a game of pong on that came on a cassette tape and took 30 minutes to load. Sounds annoying now, but at the time, it was the most awesome thing ever. It was magic. As my programming skills improved and as I saw Moore’s law rip open previous computing limits, that sense of magic became internal and intimate. It changed from “wow, look at what that neat box can do”, to “wow, I’m wielding this magic at my fingertips”. It’s not an accident that computer programmers and system admins are called wizards. When they place their fingers on a keyboard feels like wielding a magic wand. The possibilities feel endless. They are endless.
A personal computer is an intimate extension of our brains. It makes us think faster with powerful CPUs, have photographic memory with gigantic storage, analyze sort and distill information with smart algorithms, have telepathic powers through internet communication and it creates a playground for our imagination through virtual worlds and simulations. Personal computers are the vessel for electronic thoughts. Just as thoughts are personal and private, so is private computing. It’s a personal and private experience.
Cloud computing takes the closely held magic away from us and places it in the hands of a powerful corporation. If you are a magic user rather than magic wizard, this doesn’t seem like a big difference. After all you still reap the benefits, you still touch your precious keyboard and with a press of a button magic happens. The key difference is that with personal computers you own that magic – it’s personal. With cloud computing that magic happens at someone else’s bidding. The user is merely presented with the end result. It’s magic for rent. It’s a satisfying illusion. When you use cloud computing, you’ve put away your wizard’s wand and substituted it for a fancy TV remote control. Often cloud computing magic appears more powerful than what you could ever hope to accomplish on your own. For that reason it’s tempting to put away your dusty old wand and to follow the rest of the herd away from that dried up patch of pasture you call “yours”, to a never-ending green field shared by all. Unlike personal computing, cloud computing is also easy, it doesn’t force you to learn and it doesn’t demand you to work. Most importantly doesn’t demand answers to any questions. The only thing is to open your mouth, chew and swallow that juicy green grass.
Does this mean cloud computing is always a bad idea? Certainly not. Personal computing is not about living in a cave as a hermit. It’s about defining limits. Personal computing is a question. What is yours and private? What is shared? What is off limits? What should always stay personal? What is the value of your privacy? What can you afford to let float into the cloud? What will you share? What will you keep secret? And when you are ready to head off to the never-ending green field shared by all, ask yourself: Who owns that field? Will it always be green and never-ending? Who makes the rules while I’m there? And most importantly, can I get best of both worlds? Can I visit the never ending green field for a few hours and return back to my own place at a moment’s notice? Or am I entering a one way corral? Can I keep my wand? Or do I have to trade-it-in for a remote control at the gate?
Draw a boundary; define your kingdom – no matter how big or small. Ask yourself, can I claim that territory my own the same way as I claim my mind my own?
Am I free? Will I remain free?