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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From high in the hills of New Hampshire, July 30, 2013

The Connected Life

I don't subscribe to the Steve Jobs/Apple model of technology. Forgetting physical product design for a moment, this is the Apple way of thinking whereby everyone is always connected to a network, where ever they are, at all times.

In this model, you really don't carry anything about you. Now you may think you do, because you can use that iPad or iPhone to quickly access those vacation photos from 2011, but in reality you don't own that stuff. Oh, buried in that end user agreement (that you didn't read, by the way) Apple says that you do own your property, but you really don't. Same thing for your contacts, your music, your notes. Everything.

No, all of your stuff in the connected life actually resides on a server, somewhere in a place where you have never been and, in for many in this day and age, couldn't find on a map anyway. Apple (and in fairness, other companies as well) have created the illusion that your stuff is, well, “yours” through fast moving bits of data seamlessly streamed over an ever-imagined, all-encompassing virtual network that exists everywhere.

The reality though is that your stuff really is at the mercy of a spider-web of privately run networks that really exist at the whim of large businesses who sole purpose in existing is to make money for someone else (not you). Yeah, yeah, I can hear it now, “Socialist!”, a cry, by the way, that by and large comes from people who really can't define the term “Socialist” anyway. What's more, I personally am far more vested in the private sector & free markets (more than a quarter century and counting working in the for-profit private sector) than many of people I know. I just happen to realize the limits of the system in which I exist. I can't say that same for others (including the Governor of Texas), but so I digress.

Getting back to the point at hand, the real problem I have with the Connected Life is that it assumes this constant plug-in to the “network”. Risky? You bet. But also stupid. Think about it: in the Connected Life you are almost forced to be places where you have a connection. You are at the whim of the business continuation planning of all those Apple (and other tech company) server farms that house the “iCloud”. You had better be praying that Apple doesn't cheese off some hacker group, resulting in those intimate pictures you had on “the iCloud” now serving the fantasy needs of some angry Russian teenager.

Some are forget that there is real value, at times, in physically owning the physical things that are truly important to you. There is a certain security in being able to say “this is something that I treasure and I'm not relying on some big corporation that doesn't know or care about me” in order to access it. How perverse it is to say that we entrust our treasured memories to some non-corporeal entity that actually doesn't give a damn about us? We lock our doors so that strangers can't access our homes, but we let faceless strangers access much of our personal (electronic) lives. Let's not forget that there is also a real value in being able to completely disengage from the network from time to time in order gain perspective.

To the last point in the previous paragraph: I firmly believe that as a society we are moving to a place where we greatly devalue the physicality of things like friendship and identity. And of solitude. We wonder why there is so much stress (and all the things it causes) in the world on one hand while we tether so much of our identity to Facebook and the iClouds.

Here's to all of us taking the time to disengage, at least for short periods of time. Here's to spending physical time with our friends.   

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