How to explain The Cloud to your parents

Reply hazy, try again.

click to enlarge UP IN THE AIR: So my pictures are floating around up there somewhere? - Mosscat/Wikimedia Commons
Mosscat/Wikimedia Commons
UP IN THE AIR: So my pictures are floating around up there somewhere?

The cloud. It’s the future of personal computing!

Actually, it’s been the present of personal computing for, oh, about six years now. Which means it’s time for one of the concept’s biggest service providers, Dropbox, to follow in Twitter’s footsteps and make tech headlines of its own by dint of an astonishingly high valuation and impending IPO bid.

That cloud computing has now been around long enough for early adopters to tire of the term also means your parents just heard about it.

Just in time for them to have mastered email, and started looking for the next computer thingy by which to be terrified. Just in time for them to want to know if “the cloud” has something to do with why their new smartphones are clogged with photos, or maybe how the FaceSpace works.

Just in time for the holiday visit.

Here’s a handy guide to help you through the inevitable conversation.

OK, so, now, what is the cloud?
It’s basically just a cool name for remote storage. Here, look — I’ll set up your phone so every time you take a picture, it automatically uploads to somewhere else. That way, if you lose your phone, you can still access all your photos, and with some services, you can even delete the photos off of your phone to save space.

Where do my pictures go?
To whatever service you want to use.

So they’re just out in space?
No, they go to another computer.

That’s not really a cloud.
No, it isn’t. I told you, that’s just what it’s called.

Why would I want my personal pictures to go on someone else’s computer?
For backup and to save space. But it’s not really someone else’s computer, it’s a big bank of computers at a company.

Can anybody see my pictures?
If you want them to, but …

I don’t want them to. They’re my pictures.
OK, no problem, we can make it private.

Can the people at the company see my pictures?
Well, there’s a lot of debate about that. Technically, yes, almost certainly, but …

I don’t want the company looking at my pictures.
Why would anybody want to look at your pictures of Little Jack at the petting zoo, or that car you saw?

I still don’t know how they got that car in that space. Why does anybody do anything? It’s the principle. They’re private. It’s cold in here.
It’s not cold enough outside to turn off the AC.

I came to Florida to be warm.
I’ll get you a sweater. Do you want to use Google+ or Picasa or Flickr?

What are those? Sweaters?
No, they’re different cloud services. They’re all different, but mostly the same.

Can’t you just take all my pictures off my phone, put them on your computer, then email them to my computer?
That’s sort of why cloud services exist, so we don’t have to do that.

I don’t want my pictures just floating around the air.
They don’t …

Just take a few pictures off my phone, so I can take some more.
I … OK. Fine.

Then you might as well do them all, right?
Right. Sure. I guess.

So how long will it take?

Read more Scott at, or follow him @harrellscott

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