Cloud Culture – The Obvious Obstacle?

The tendency for people to shift their computing life into ‘the cloud’ is rolling on at great pace. More and more people are trusting

• their email to Gmail,
• their photos to Flickr,
• their back-up to Amazon or Dropbox,
• their documents to Google Docs

and are using collaborative platforms for sharing data, from Soundcloud for music files to Google Docs for spreadsheets and text.

This has been matched by a corresponding conversation about the impact of ‘Cloud’ ideas, technolgy and infrastructure on our ideas of culture and creativity. There are wonderful conversations happening about notions of ownership, what happens when a cultural entity can be made freely available to all, when people can actually build on the work of artists in every field, remix and mash-up other people’s work…

It’s heady and fascinating stuff, and much of it is explored in some detail in Charlie Leadbeater’s book ‘Cloud Culture’ as commissioned by the British Council.

The bit that seems like a massive stumbling block for me (aside from the obviously and gargantuan obstruction of the Digital Economy Bill, in all it’s neanderthal, regressive, stagnant, authoritarian lunacy) is the issue of mobile access to the cloud.

You see, at the moment, access to the internet is shifting from being perceived as a privilege to a right. This belief is impacting on education policy, and well as international development considerations, with regards to building infrastructure in those countries euphemistically labeled emerging economies.

But at the moment, the ‘right’ seems to be to ‘internet access’ rather than ‘permanent/constant/consistent internet access’, and one of the big issues with Cloud concepts is ‘what do I do when I can’t get to my stuff?’

Clearly, mobile access is the key to this, but the mobile industry is SO far behind in making itself cost effective, consumer friendly and up-to-date tech-wise, that it’s hard to imagine a greater technological discrepency than that between the potential of ‘cloud computing’ and the cost, openness, inter-operability, capacity and bandwidth of mobile comms, particularly in the US and UK.

You only need be at an event where people are tweeting a lot from mobiles and a couple of people are streaming video via 3G to experience the crunching stand-still that happens when the system is overloaded. And try accessing a Vodafone signal from an Orange-registered phone when that’s all that’s available? Forget it. What about accessing mobile data overseas? Better visit your mortgage provider first…

While mobile hardware has come on in leaps and bounds in recent times (and looks set to expand even further, under the influence of the Apple iPad, if not including the device itself), the mobile networks are making no noticeable steps at all towards ‘access’ becoming anything that resembles a ‘right’.

Just to underscore this point, having been out of contract for a while now, I called Orange, and told them that as I didn’t need a new handset, I’d like to switch to a sim-only contract, and I’d like to have whatever was the cheapest monthly option that had unlimited data (which, I think, is actually 500meg on Orange, under their ‘fair use’ policy… WTF?) – I was promptly told that the cheapest one they had was £30 a month – almost the same as I was paying already. Which seems a little odd. I asked what would happen if I said I was leaving to another network, at which point, I got the baffling response of ‘well, if you get a new phone, you can have it for £15 a month’ – way more minutes/texts than I need, unlimited data and a Nokia 5800 for £15 a month. Could I get it without the phone? Nope.

It’s nuts, it’s a totally stupid business model, is environmentally unsustainable, and the total lack of interoperability between the networks makes it all too common for people to not be able to access their data in the cloud.

So, what do we do? Cos crap mobile + Mandelson and his big internet scissors cutting off coffee shops based on what their patrons download is going to make public access to wifi a commodity in short supply – the extra strain the mobile networks have to take up if the Digital Economy Bill kills free public wifi will almost certainly be too much for the network as it stands…

Solutions anyone?

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  1. I used to be on Orange…Am now not for same reason ( sim-only) Also I just couldn’t afford it…and so don’t have an up-to-date phone but a much reduced outlay. Cloud is not good for some businesses – there are quite vocal concerns about security issues re the possibilty of hacking. Love the scissors analogy too 🙂

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