04 October 2011

False metaphors - Cloud computing

"Metaphors We Live By", a best-selling publication in the 1980s, drew attention to the fact that we often think and argue in metaphors without being conscious of the fact. Left-wing theories and Right-wing conspiracy have nothing intrinsically right or left abnout them, and if we're not careful we become trapped in a spatial metaphor which is not at all appropriate for clear political thinking.

An example from the world of technology which causes me much amusement is "Cloud computing". It's such an attractive proposition, isn't it? You are sitting at your computer, but your work, and even the software you're using is "out there". You are "working in the Cloud". The image of water vapour floating above the earth is somehow reassuringly vague, light, and insubstantial. It's almost as if God is looking after all your data files.

What is the concrete truth of cloud computing? Well - you are working with a connection to banks of heavy-duty industrial-strength servers, which are located in high-security windowless wharehouses, themselves surrounded by protective barriers and located on industrial estates in obscure corners of the world, with fail-safe and fire-proof backup located somehwere else. There's not much cloud-like about that, is there?

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