'The Cloud' is still a cloud

Rich Harris: When it comes to memories and things that matter to us, we know that physical tangibility is something we can trust, something that holds it's own unique value, reminding us that our lives have been actual, real and organic.

Guest editorial by Rich Harris

If you are in your 30's or older, there is a chance that your life has been journalized somewhere, somehow, in the form of VHS/Betamax tapes, cassette tapes, big bulky photo albums, and in some cases, reel-to-reel film. I have an ongoing project at home where I've began to pull together all the original photographs I could find of my childhood, old friends, my boys from when they were babies and toddlers (now teenagers), photos of my father when he was 18 years old and in the Marines during the Vietnam War, etc. I also dug around in some old boxes and found lots of old music on cassette and vinyl that STILL hadn't made it to the digital world of online distribution, remastered and updated. It's safe to say that most of us in the age range of 30+ still have an attachment to these analog artifacts. However, it's not just an emotional attachment. When it comes to memories and things that matter to us, we know that physical tangibility is something we can trust, something that holds it's own unique value, reminding us that our lives have been actual, real and organic.

Generation Z I wasn't able to attend the last Facebook F8 event but I tried to follow it as closely as possible. At some point at the event, a statistic came out that said something along the lines of "79% of all online users spend the majority of their online time hanging out and interacting on their social network(s) of choice." That evening, after getting home from work, I asked my teenagers if they were ever worried about all of their content - mobile photos/videos and online conversation threads, etc. - all that stuff they had been creating, uploading and sharing. The response I got back from them was a little eye-opening for me: "I don't need to worry about it, it's all on Facebook." I then asked him what would happen theoretically if all of a sudden all those photos and content just disappeared, what if they woke up one morning after being on Facebook for 20 years of their lives, documenting their teens, 20's, 30's, weddings, their first children being born, etc....it all just disappeared. Regardless whether it was Facebook shutting down or just being dissolved financially as the internet moved on from it as a branded site, how would they feel? What would they do? Their response was a little blank and short-circuited, which was a little disconcerting to me because I had wondered maybe if, while I knew the value of the analog items of our lives, maybe I hadn't done as good of a job passing that emphasis onto them as I had once thought. This day and age makes that even harder to do for our younger generations.

I've been observing how my boys are essentially 'growing up on Facebook', trusting their emotional ties and content to a website that owes them nothing and makes no guarantees about how much it values their content. I got to thinking about that 79% statistic, and how I believe that will grow to be over 90% in less than two years. Younger generations that currently frequent Facebook still know the personal/emotional value of their own content but I think in their developing teenage minds somehow, they might think that just because they care about it, the sites they're posting all this on, care as well. Well, those of us who have been alive as adults during the transition into the digital world know that that's not the case. 1's and 0's unfortunately don't have their own emotional makeup.

Guidance & The Importance of The Archive When I started using computers in the mid 90's I always knew I didn't want to lose stuff I was working on but I hadn't really lost anything at the time that mattered. There was nothing really personal on my computer. Back then, there were no digital cameras, blogs, and personal literary content flowing around at the rate that it is now. The worst case scenario is I'd lose the Solitaire icon for Windows for Workgroups 3.11 or a 5.25" floppy that had Oregon Trail on it. Before working at Seagate, I didn't really realize the value of what Seagate sells until I lost about 40GB of music that I had personally purchased with my own money. I had also lost a bunch of photos of my kids that I hadn't pushed up to my Flickr account yet. It was just gone. I now have at least two back up drives at all times (only cost under a $100 each) at home where I dump everything so that I never have to worry.

As we become more prolific with our personal content via blogs and social sites, our entire journalized lives are out there, stored in several "trusted" clouds like Facebook and Flickr. I'm not saying don't trust the cloud at all, I'm just saying that we should all be attentive about taking care of all the meaningful content backing it up so that we are statistically fail safe. We need to do a consistently mindful job of teaching our newer generations, whose lives revolve around social sites and personal online content generated en masse via mobile and home computers, the importance of taking care of their content.

When you are a kid on an airplane, you look out the window at these massive full thick clouds and envision yourself playing, sleeping, and running around on them for days. As an adult you eventually learn that the reality is that unless you have a parachute, you fall right through.

Backing up is your parachute. The Cloud Era rocks, and so does all the cool technology that supports it. The problem is that it's not capable of creating and caring about your content the way you do so make sure you save copies of the originals on something you can hold in your hand.

Rich Harris has been a web marketer for over 10 years, with over 14 years experience in high-tech, both in the consumer and enterprise spaces. He has a passion for people and community building and a strong aversion to online marketing’s status quo. Uncharted marketing territory excites him. He’s a father of three boys, blogger, artist, and a musician. He's also the producer for the Quick'n'Dirty social media podcast. Follow him on Twitter (@47project).