Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thing 13: Exploring the Cloud

I don't remember where I was or what I was doing when I first heard the term "cloud computing", but I do know that my life has been changed forever by mobile, collaborative, shared information. By the way, did anyone ever figure out how to really use Windows "My Briefcase" feature? I sure didn't.

I cannot imagine how I would accomplish most of what I do without the ability to seamlessly work across devices--but I still remember my first flash drive and the first computer I saw without a 3.5 inch floppy.  

Floppies and flash drives were the answer to mobile computing once upon a time. Floppies came first, and boy did I have some! My floppies were archives of digital pictures, lesson plans on the go, backups for my computer, and I had the cutest cases for lugging them around. When a new employee in our district received a laptop without a floppy drive, I was beyond horrified. What in the world was she going to do?! In the case of the school district, they actually purchased a portable floppy drive and we could all breathe a sigh of relief.

As a promotion for purchasing a DELL laptop, I received a 64 MB flash drive. I carried the thing around for a year, not able to use it because Win98 wouldn't recognize it as a drive. I could save on it from my laptop, but couldn't use it with other computers. No way was it going to replace floppies. (Oh, yes, I still have it, The little baby flash drive? It provides the Blu-ray with the extra storage sometimes needed to play a disk.)

(Cue fancy flash forward tech scenes.) Then there was Google Docs, now Google Drive.  Then Windows Live Workspace. Then Dropbox. Then Evernote. Then SMART phones and tablets and....even our library catalogs became cloud compatible. No longer does a user have to be tied to a single workstation in a single location, well, as long as there is Internet access anyway.  

Mobile cloud computing has saved me a tremendous amount of time. Collaborative wikis have enhanced my professional career. Today I will be sharing a link to a video to for use on the morning broadcast with a colleague via Dropbox (and if you haven't already, sign up now with this link and we'll both get 500 MB of additional storage.). I have our media specialist cluster directory on Google Drive. My Chrome browser is the same across all my workstations. Evernote helps me organize my clippings, notes, and links and makes them accessible from anywhere. Even Amazon offers a cloud drive for storing music, docs and photos, along with a cloud player so our music is accessible across devices. As long as I can find a safe, secure signal, I am good.

So the real question is, how do we ensure Internet access across the world? If we, in our profession, are all about accessibility to services, then services based on the almighty cloud leave out a large chunk (notice that this is not a statistically accurate term) of the population due to poverty, or location, or lack of devices. I get a bit jittery if I lose Internet access and have all sorts of back up plans for ensuring I can get to my information, and I would be very disappointed horrified if I had to go back to living on dial up, tied to a single workstation. I can no longer even conceive of living without a signal at all, and yet that is life for so very many people in the world. Lots of folks in our field are way more educated to the statistical reality of the digital divide, but as a librarian, the one thing I can do now is to provide access to the signal for my patrons in my community. It is a small thing, but I'm grateful to be able to share the signal and connect patrons to some of the awesome services and tools of the world wide web.  Services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and the Amazon Cloud Drive make it possible for someone without reliable access to a private workstation, to work across public devices with ease.  Yes, I like the cloud.

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