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Ryan Daniels
Daniels, Straight Up

Credit: Amanda Suarez , Ryan Daniels

The breakthrough announcement of Apple’s “iCloud” was nothing new in 2011. Cloud computing had existed in many forms ­— launched by many different companies — for years but had never really caught on.

Previous efforts to drag people into mobile computing were half-baked — discreet, costly add-ons that only streamed tidbits of data. But it seemed like finally, Apple, in its usual fashion, would provide a full-fledged overhaul. If people didn’t have their heads in the cloud before 2011, they would soon.

Whatever became of this noble mobile revolution? Two and a half years later, the cloud still hasn’t condensed, even though it’s the most promising and practical future of computing.

For those rushing to Wikipedia (or worse, for answers, cloud computing most simply refers to storing and accessing data — documents, photos, music — through the internet, instead of your laptop’s hard drive. You connect to a “cloud,” which is really a giant storage warehouse.

Letting your computer’s storage evaporate has tons of potential benefits. The most obvious one is reducing the weight and size of your laptop, as hard drives tend to be the bulkiest of a computer’s innards.

It also mitigates the risk of losing files during a computer crash. Companies of the cloud know their success depends on being trusted, and that just one system lapse will jeopardize this. They tirelessly maintain their servers to make sure their file cabinets are safer than your computer’s.

Lastly, it cuts annoying cords. By now, a lot of people have more than one device (a tablet, smartphone or computer) that they access their files on. The time spent each day plugging them together to share information is wasteful and restrictive. Cloud computing syncs everything wirelessly.

So with all these awesome perks, why have we been so slow to reboot our computing and give hard drives the boot?

The most obvious problem is giving up wires. As much as they tie us down, cables transmit data far faster than the internet can. Also, without a local hard drive, you can only save or load a document with WiFi. Until internet speeds increase and computers get cellular data chips, this drawback will be hard to circumvent.

The other main impediment has been the price tag of remote storage. Providers have opted to charge monthly or annual fees for their services — they can’t just build these behemoth storage outposts for free. While they aren’t very expensive, consumers aren’t going to pay for a remote drive if they already have a local one.

The slow transition to the cloud is a shame, because the benefits far outweigh the barriers to entry. With the ubiquity of the internet, it makes less sense to store files locally. Cloud computing will no doubt be the next big phase in technology. Since most large companies haven’t offered a comprehensive pathway to it, we ought to pave one ourselves.

We can do this by combining various smaller applications that already exist.

We can save our documents and photos right into applications like DropBox. These services let users store files remotely and offer a few gigabytes for free. This means that your essential files will be accessible anywhere and are safe from crashes.

For music, we should trash our hefty libraries and get players like Spotify. This underdog usurper of the iTunes throne lets users stream almost any song imaginable, on any device, for a small monthly fee. You can save specific tracks for flights or subway rides without needing to save your 1,000 other songs.

Finally, sites like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video work like Spotify for movies and television. Storing videos takes up a ton of space, and you’ll probably only watch them once anyway.

These services are already widely used, as more and more consumers are realizing the virtues of the cloud. But as larger companies stall in pulling our data to the sky, we should continue to actively seek out alternatives in more places — when was the last time you took on a new streaming service before it was mainstream?

With the ubiquity of internet and our tendency to use multiple devices, cloud computing will be the next phase in technology. When everyone finally adapts, you won’t want to be left on the ground.

Ryan Daniels is a College senior from Philadelphia. Email him at “Daniels, Straight Up” appears every Wednesday.

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