Head in the cloud – A justified rant about technology

Now, this is the story, all about how my data got flipped, turned upside down so I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you why I moved my storage into the air.

In the North-East of England, Yorkshire raised, on the hard drive is where I stored my life away. Chilling out, maxing relaxing all cool and… I suffered a hard-drive failure and everything was lost. It can happen to us all eventually and it often happens without warning. This was certainly the case for me. Back then I had literally all my data stored on my machine; every photo, which wasn’t saved on my cameras memory stick; all of my music and any videos I had downloaded. But worst of all, I had lost every bit of work I had done over the years, gone forever.

That was many years ago, thankfully these days it’s not possible for that to happen to me; of course I have a lot of data stored locally, however practically all of it is backed up in some way – it’s fair to say that I actually live my digital life entirely in the cloud.

At the moment, I am sat, writing this article in a coffee shop in the middle of Southampton; in front of me is my laptop, my phone and a meatball Panini and I am surrounded by wireless internet (and hipsters). Before moving my life into the cloud, I found writing a pain; to be productive I had to have access to a text editor and the most up-to-date copy of the file I was working on. These days all I need is a device with an Internet connection. It doesn’t matter where I am or what sort of device I have with me, I can access my Dropbox account, sync it and immediately get writing. Files get saved automatically every few minutes and the next time I access Dropbox (regardless of the device I’m on), my files are there, ready to be edited again.

By far the best benefit of living in the cloud is that I can pretend I have a good memory, between Facebook, TwitterGmail, Evernote and Google Calendar I have pretty much my entire life mapped out. Within a few clicks I can tell you which of my friends’ birthdays is next, what gift I got them last year, where we went to celebrate and even pull up photos from the night out.

The main characters from 'The Hangover'

Although that’s not always a good thing

If I was with a client and needed to know the amount of our last invoice or exactly how long I worked on their last project, I only need to log into my FreeAgent account and all the information is right there. What did their last business card look like before the redesign? No need to try to remember, I just log into Behance and take a look. When was it that I added the comment section to their website? I need only check the revision history in GitHub.

There are hardly any important items of data which I cannot access from anywhere with a net connection anymore.

In fact, as the ability to secure the information stored in the cloud – and more importantly, securely share the information – increases I find the need for printed documents more and more draconian.

The fact that I need to provide any form of paper ID these days is something I find increasingly frustrating and outmoded. The best example of this was when my girlfriend and I recently decided that it was time to take the plunge and open a joint bank account.

As I had no form of photo ID at the time, (having failed to renew my passport and being a non-driver) this process proved difficult, to make matters worse, during the process of moving house, my birth certificate was mislaid (thankfully located now) which made getting the account practically impossible. In fact the only way to get the account sorted was to drive to Liverpool and get an emergency passport.

The two main characters from The Fifth Element, showing their ID's

The bank teller didn’t consider a multi pass to be a valid form of ID

In 2015, where Internet access is all-but ubiquitous in this country it must be fairly easy in practical terms to securely establish someone’s identity? Why is it that I need a piece of (relatively) easily forgeable documentation to prove that I am who I say I am?

Do you want proof I’m Alex Ward? Bloody Google me! Between Facebook and Twitter there are hundreds of items of evidence publicly available online, need something more formal? Check LinkedIn! If that’s not formal enough then why don’t companies (or even governments) pool together and create a central repository where people can register themselves and create an actual, official digital ID. Hell, I even have a digital government ID which I am required to use when I fill in my online tax return, surely an official profile could be built around that?!

I understand that digital encryption has its flaws but lets put the scare mongering aside for a moment and consider this; which is easier to do?

  • Break into a 128bit-encrypted government/corporate server and retrieve/alter sensitive information.
  • Make a fake ID and use it to gain entry into a building containing paper copies of sensitive information.

Neither one is easy and both could probably be accomplished by someone skilled in that area but even for a skilled professional, breaking into a secure server would be hard enough to really have to be worth their time, whereas fake ID’s are used by teenagers to get into nightclubs. Good luck getting the guy from swordfish to hack into a government system in order to change your age to 18.

A picture of Hugh Jackman in Swordfish with a gun to his head.

“Ok, I’ll do it.”

A machine is not susceptible to social engineering (the most common method used to circumvent security). A machine doesn’t understand the word ‘maybe’ and most importantly a machine doesn’t get bored or disgruntled. Going back to the fake ID analogy I used earlier; a tired, uncaring or manipulated bouncer may let a teenager with a fake ID (even an obvious one) into a nightclub but a computer system which uses a digital identification system would never slip up.

At the moment, my life is more digital than analogue. I consider this a good thing, as technology progresses, more and more of my information will join the cloud. Eventually I would like to see a future where I no longer have a wallet, where my birth certificate isn’t on paper, where I can board a plane without a passport and where I don’t need to worry about being mugged; as all the assailant could get from me would be my phone and laptop which would both be registered within the central ID system and would completely lock-down when they were accessed by someone who wasn’t me (which, thanks to LastPass and Apples FileVault – is almost already true).

The technology is there now; the systems are there now. Essentially the only block to any of this is society failing to work towards this goal. This is where competition becomes a problem as greed prevents a lot of companies from making a standard solution covering everyone and instead they continue creating their own proprietary software.

If we can get past this hurdle we will have a truly connected future.

Rant over.

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Alex Ward
Freelance UI Developer at
Freelance User Interface Developer, Aspiring novelist and ill-informed political writer from Sevenoaks, UK.

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