Internet service providers

On cloud and other dependencies

Just like the rest of the Internet, cloud computing — services run on remote servers and deliver files and computing power over the Internet — are vulnerable to the whims of regulators and governments. Residents of Egypt learned that lesson the hard way when the government abruptly shut off most Internet service providers in a frantic attempt to gain control of its rioting populace after rising unrest.

Yes, fascinating and scary and a useful kick in the pants to consider one’s dependencies.

When we lose power here in rural Connecticut my wife and I always look at each other (while lighting candles and turning on flashlights) as we realize how dependent we are on electricity. Not just lighting but our well pump, our furnace and of course, our local area network and eventually, our laptop computers (as they run out of charge). Yes, we have a lot of saved water to flush toilets in a power outage and we heat with wood and can cook on our wood stove but we do really rely on electricity for a lot. Our big freezer will last a while without power as long as we don’t open it but we have a lot of food that would need to be moved outside (where it’s freezing) so as not to spoil if we lost power for more than a few days.

While not wanting to go down the bomb shelter-survivalist path we have considered purchasing a generator to get us through power outages and may yet but we also like the idea of simply hunkering down and riding it out rather than attempting to provide enough infrastructure to normalize our lives at every moment. A generator will keep our local “cloud” up and running but not the cloud running on servers elsewhere.

While I would never support Senator Lieberman’s “kill switch” for internet services in the United States, I also look at what’s going on in Egypt as an example of how creative people can become when they don’t have what they’re used to. Yes, it’s useful to have the social internet at one’s disposal when one is organizing a revolution but the revolution is happening in Egypt without those tools.

Remember, Radio Free Europe and the BBC end-ran the propaganda broadcasting of many of the European countries that eventually became democracies. These days we have many more tools at our disposal so even in North Korea the writing is on the wall.

Yes, we’ve become dependent on the cloud just like electrical service, cable service, phone services of all kinds and more. I think the best way to respond to this self-knowledge is to back up data locally, know where the vulnerabilities are and if/when the power goes out in a snow storm, break out the snowshoes and enjoy the snow (metaphorically and otherwise).

By the way the application Notational Velocity which I use on my Mac to get at my Simplenote cloud-based notes caches that very text locally so is in fact, a nice bridge from cloud to local.