Xu: Cloud could be the solution to risks of digital age

I can count the number of CDs I brought to college on my fingers. Photographs? None. Tapes of old vacations — you’re kidding, right? In this brave new world of digital everything, electronic cousins of these once important physical objects have rendered them relics. The sheer physical nonexistence of digital data, along with incomparable convenience, has permeated the digital revolution into even the most basic aspects of our lives.

But there’s a danger here, a danger in relying on what amounts to magnetic information on wafer-thin metallic disks mere inches in diameter. While there’s a physical tangibility to three-by-five photographs, to CDs stored safely in their cases, such safety doesn’t exist for digital data. A computer crash, or a few accidental keystrokes, can wipe out years of history — that vacation in Hawaii two summers ago, high school graduation, the first days at Yale. The scary part is that the risk is far from negligible, and is completely possible at any moment.

The obvious answer is to back up digital data. I bought an external hard drive for just that purpose, using the Time Machine feature on my computer to store regular snapshots of all my data on a second hard drive, in case my primary drive dies. The chances of both failing must be low enough not to worry.

There’s also a not-so-obvious answer – the cloud. The “cloud” is the colloquial term for backing up data to servers over the Internet. Professional companies — including Amazon and Microsoft — maintain the servers, guaranteeing the health and stability of your data. While storage in these cloud-based backup spaces is often limited, it’s certainly a safe and painless way to back up your most important data. You can’t lose it, you can’t break it: it’s foolproof. Your laptop crashed? No problem — your data will still be in the cloud when you get a new computer.

That convenience and safety has led to the rise of a broader development — cloud computing. In essence, cloud computing transfers tasks usually completed on a local machine to a remote server. This can include anything from video editing — YouTube and Facebook — to photo manipulation — Google’s Picasso and Adobe’s Photoshop Express.

It’s a fast-approaching future. The cloud’s utility expands in parallel with the expansion of broadband Internet. Imagine this: after taking a photo with your cell phone, you immediately upload it, edit out the blemish on your sister’s face, fix the color balance, then present it online — all while taking a stroll through Central Park.

The cell phone is the optimal target for cloud computing; they normally pack little computing power themselves, so offloading tasks to the cloud would increase their use exponentially. Suddenly, you’re no longer bound to your computer for simple tasks. Cloud computing can give cameras the ability to upload pictures immediately — then synchronize them with your computer back home while you take the next picture.

Cloud backup and cloud computing represent the next stage of the digital revolution. With the growth of personal computing slowing and the access to broadband rapidly expanding, it’s only natural to turn to the Internet.

Computers made collecting and storing media much easier. The cloud will make computing easier and far more mobile.

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