The Cloud – What’s that?

September 28, 2012 by Heather McIlvaine

(Photo: istockphoto.com)

In certain circles, when someone mentions the cloud, it goes without saying that they’re talking about the latest tech trend. Not so much in the McIlvaine household. Recently, at one of those long, loud family dinners where everything from e-readers to e-bikes is discussed, I was put on the spot: “What is cloud computing anyway?” This coming from a group of people who constantly message each other on Google Chat, upload their latest vacation pics to a shared folder on Dropbox, and pepper Siri with questions on a daily basis. They practically live in the cloud – they just don’t know it.

Apparently, this is the case for a number of Americans. A recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research asked 1,000 adults what they think about cloud computing. The majority (54%) replied that they don’t use the cloud. Dig a little deeper, and it turns out that almost all of them do. 95% of these cloud novices later admitted that they frequently use online banking, social networking sites, and iTunes – all of these cloud services. Their confusion makes sense when you realize that only 16% of survey respondents correctly identified the cloud as a computer network that stores and shares data via the Internet. Most people still associate the term first and foremost with the weather.

Knowing this, I wasn’t exactly surprised when my family asked me to clarify cloud computing. I talked about Google Docs and showed them how I was using the iOS Cloud. As it turns out, what they really wanted to know is how the cloud actually works. How is it built? What does it look like? If it’s broken, how do you fix it? I have to admit, their questions gave me pause. Sure, I understand the benefits of cloud computing and how it works on a basic level, but I’m no developer. As I sat there, with smartphone in hand, I thought of all the technological services that make my life easier (online banking, Skype, mobile apps), and at the same time, so much more complex. And I thought – as I have often thought in the past few years – ‘Why, oh why, didn’t I become a computer programmer?!’

Not that I would have been very good at it. But as the cloud and other technology take on an increasingly integral role in my day-to-day life, it is quite clear: a large vocabulary will only take me so far.

What about you? Do you also wish you had a deeper understanding of the technology you use on a daily basis?   

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