Saturday, January 3, 2015

Up There In The Clouds

My piece in The Hindu today:

A few weeks ago, on my birthday, when my husband walked into the house sullen-faced and empty-handed, I was worried. Not so much about the hands being empty, for he had already bought me presents (although I could have done with a few more), but more so with the glum expression. After all, it is not everyday that your wife turns thirty-five – and cooks the entire birthday meal by herself. My questions to him yielded no response and he remained listless through the evening. Only after the guests left was the reason revealed: husband, who loves order to the limit of obsession, while clearing his phone of an unwanted picture, had accidentally deleted the entire album. Given that he, like most people, only uses the camera in his phone, he had ended up losing almost five hundred pictures, which included the ones from his South India trip, and the recent Himalayan expedition.

Working on a closed network – and laptop – in office, and having a MacBook at home (syncing an android phone with an Apple is a task in itself) had ensured he had no backup either. Obviously he was heart broken (wife’s birthday happens every year but a journey into the depths of Tamil Nadu and heights of the Himalaya doesn’t). The rest of the night was spent trying to undo the damage. Every single person who knows anything about phones and technology was contacted but the pictures could not be recovered. What he did find out however was that the loss could have been prevented had he hosted the pictures on a cloud.

Now I do know a thing or two about cloud computing. I also know how it is used and where. But I was clueless about individuals having access to cloud space. Apparently in the years that I had stayed away from technology, clouds had become personal spaces too, and were now accessible to all and sundry.

The tradition that started with Google, when it came up with Google drive – a network storage space for Gmail users – is now being followed by Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and many others. All you need to do is to sign up with them. You can chose to access the cloud through your computer or smart phone, store all your data, pictures, music and files, and access it from any device in the world. Even if the primary device is lost or damaged your data will be safe and accessible.

What we also discovered was that husbands phone, a Samsung S4, had come pre loaded with Dropbox, one of the most popular cloud for personal usage, only he had been too busy – or ignorant – to notice it.

Setting the application up was a breeze, even for technology novices like us: log in to the app, download it on your computer through the link they mail you, and in just a few minutes you are good to go. To access – and control – your account, you just need to click open the tiny icon on the top of your screen (bottom in case of a windows OS). The pictures from the phone are synced instantaneously; the documents however have to be dragged and dropped into the box. You can share the data, organise it the way you like, save semi-finished files – and access them later – and even pause the syncing if you want. And you can access it from any machine through their website, if not the app.

The free account that comes with the phone gave him 2GB space; he had an option of buying more space for a fee, or to refer others and earn more space as a reward. Husband, presumably preferred the latter, spamming every possible mailbox (even converting a few people like my father) and earning 48GB of extra space, taking the total to 50GB.

Since the time, he has been advocating cloud usage to everyone he comes across. Even though he claims to have noble intentions (he does not want others to suffer like him), I highly suspect his intent (free space for ever referral, remember?). On his part, he has backed each file, contact and picture and has been checking it from time to time for his satisfaction.

And so, last week, when he dropped and damaged his phone beyond repair, he did not seem perturbed at all. “I can always buy a new phone,” he said, “as long as my pictures are safe”. Sitting in the clouds they indeed seem safe.

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