Hey You! Get Offa My Cloud!

We are all just rolling stones…

More than a decade ago Barbara Marx Hubbard wrote, “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.” 

Hubbard, a prolific futurist, author, and public speaker is credited with outlining the concepts of ‘The Synergy Engine’ and the “birthing” of humanity. Her belief that if there is a problem somewhere, there is also a solution available somewhere else, spawned the vision of a global network response system outlined in Neale Donald Walsch’s 2012 biography, The Mother of Invention: The Legacy of Barbara Marx Hubbard and the Future of You.

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.

Whole Earth Catalog
Whole Earth Catalog

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.”

In 2012, I sit before a screen in a very small town in Wisconsin and I see an unfamiliar name, Namie Amuro. Instantly, I can 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 we all now possess a free share in the commonwealth-of-information, We 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 6 o’clock nightly news and weather. It’s all accessible 24/7 in the palm of your hand.

The first hand-held calculator, invented by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments
The first hand-held calculator, invented by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments

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.


Hey You! Get Offa My Cloud! We are all Rolling Stones first appeared in 2012, N.E.W Voices; Vol 1, No. 2 – A Literary Platform for Wisconsin Writers, pages 6-8.

Steve Jobs’ Memorable Three Stories Speech at Stanford University in 2005

Steve Jobs, who never graduated from college, died at 56 years of age on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Here he reflects on that part of his life, his career and his own mortality in a well-known commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.

So many people including myself, have such a huge debt of gratitude to this singular man.

Steve Jobs helped to shape this world by believing, “that you can’t connect the dots by looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Here is that memorable 15-minute speech courtesy of Stanford, and a transcript that you might like to follow posted below:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then, I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. And so at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life’s gonna hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And, don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about Death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and thankfully, I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It’s Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the Bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.