“We now have a new nervous system on the planet, which is the social media and 5.7 billion cell phones. Facebook is the third largest nation in the world. We (three-quarters of the human species) can be connected without any of the gatekeepers stopping us at all. If used for the good, it can be the shift point on earth.” – Barbara Marx Hubbard (a prolific futurist, author and public speaker who is credited with the concepts of ‘The Synergy Engine’ and the ‘birthing’ of humanity.
On May 29, 2012 Google reported that 0.11 percent of the users of its Gmail service experienced login issues that lasted almost three hours. That figure may sound insignificant but it represents approximately 400,000 people for whom the “cloud” simply vanished. But then, it returned. Where and what is the cloud, you might ask?
Some describe the cloud as a metaphor for the Internet itself, defining a difference between the virtual and physical worlds. Others deny that point of view, seeing the cloud as a very real collection of hard-wired, external, physical devices that provide a means of communicating and storing information.
When Stewart Brand spoke of the “hard-wiring of Planet Earth” as an “evolutionary process,” in the first edition of his Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, I had no idea that he was describing a day in the future when we would have instant communications and instant information retrieval from the cloud.
That’s because in 1968, personal information networks were only outbound, broadcasting media in one direction, from producer to consumer. In the 1980s, people started using personal computers and modems over the telephone lines to send and collect information. Two-way information-sharing networks started to evolve with the advent of online bulletin board systems (BBS) like The Well, a virtual community created by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985. People began living a portion of their lives in the cloud.
In 1963 J.C.R. Licklider addressed his colleagues at ARPA as “…members and affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network,” in what some might describe as the first conception of what would eventually become the Internet. His published memos contain ideas regarding almost everything that the Internet has become, including cloud computing. The first uses of the actual term were in the late 1990s and by 1997 someone had actually tried, unsuccessfully to trademark it. In October 1997, cloud computing was discussed in an academic conference and described as a new “paradigm where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale rather than technical limits.”
In November 1997, the first newspaper article on the subject was published which quoted Reuven Cohen with describing the cloud as a metaphor for the Web in explaining to programmers, “It’s a rebranding of the Internet. That is why there is a raging debate. By virtue of being a metaphor, it’s open to different interpretations.”
Part of the debate is who should get credit for inventing the idea. The notion of network-based computing dates to the 1960s, but many believe the first use of “cloud computing” in its modern context occurred on August 9, 2006, when then Google CEO Eric Schmidt introduced the term to an industry conference.
“What’s interesting is that there is an emergent new model. I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is,” Schmidt said. “It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a ‘cloud’ somewhere.”
The term began to see wider use the following year, when companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM started to tout their cloud-computing efforts as well. That was also when it first appeared in newspaper articles, such as a The New York Times report from November 15, 2007 that carried the headline “I.B.M. to Push ‘Cloud Computing,’ Using Data From Afar.” It described vague plans for “Internet-based supercomputing.”
The State of Cloud Computing (Video by Jess3)
In 2012, I sit before a screen in Fish Creek, Wisconsin and see an unfamiliar name, Namie Amuro. Instantly, I discover that she is a Japanese singer, once a member of the pop group Super Monkey’s 4. Seconds later, I am listening to her songs on Spotify. Because I now possess a free share in the commonwealth-of-information, I have access to the cloud… a complex, multi-media, digital network previously denied to many by social rank and geographic location. But global consciousness is rapidly evolving.
Paper catalogs and mail-order have become Amazonian e-commerce data silos, filled with customer accounts, sales and product data – instantly accessible from almost anywhere on Earth. Telephone books are as irrelevant as the nightly news and weather. It’s all accessible 24/7 in the palm of your hand.
In 1967, the most exotic electronica was a Texas Instruments handheld calculator that cost more than a $100 dollars and spit data out on a paper tape. Forty-plus years later, I am driving through my rural Wisconsin town, stop and take a photo of the harbor and I feel like sharing it. I write a comment and post it on-the-spot for my Facebook friends all over the world to see and comment on… using my handheld smartphone!
We may be thousands of miles apart and yet we remain intrinsically connected. The cloud I manifest is an infinite collection of circles, filled with information, shared by friends. And the cloud just keeps getting bigger, better, cheaper, faster, more robust – via ever smaller devices that blur the boundaries of a wired world.