Epictetus told his students, when they’d quote some great philosopher, to picture themselves standing over the man having sex. Grunting, groaning and awkward; like the rest of us so completely detached from their ‘philosophical’ rhetoric. Marcus would deprive things of their euphemisms – roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. The aim was to see these things as they really are, to ‘strip away the legend that encrusts them.’ – Ryan Holiday
I sometimes think of cloud computing as your stuff on someone else’s computer. We like to think that our information is stored out in the aether, but it’s really just on a computer in a different physical location. When I worked at Hitachi, I was using servers all the time. They’re computers. It stripped away the magic.
(Yes, yes, I’m oversimplifying. There are storage devices, but that’s not the point of today’s exercise.)
We think so many of our services are powered by magic algorithms. But facebook is partly built on cheap labor, filtering out offensive material. And after reading Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, I know to be weary of pretending algorithms are objective. They’re still built upon human choices.
Uber? There’s no cloud there. It’s a bunch of people driving in their fucking cars. It’s a taxi service built on smartphones and cheap labor.
It’s kind of like garbage. No, I’m not saying this stuff is garbage — I’m attempting to make an analogy. In modern life, we put our garbage in a nice can on our nice streets and it’s taken away in the morning before we wake up. It disappears, never to be thought of again. Except when we read a dreadful, upsetting article on facebook about where our garbage goes, and we think that we should do something about it, but all we do is click to the next article.
Similarly, we should be aware that the “cloud” often involves a lot of unseen infrastructure and cheap labor.
(Some days we must be gracious and in awe. We must remember the magic in everyday things and rejoice in the amazing things we build as human beings. Some days we must strip away the magic and see things as they are. Some days we must do both. Today, for me, is a day for reality. Remember that no matter the result, nothing is really done yet.)