Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Riding Off Into the Cloud

wyoming highway 220 motorcycle
Computers have a been a significant part of my world since I was 14 years old. In the 1980s, my step-father had networked some 8 different UNIX workstations throughout our house under this Utopian idea that our entire lives would become dependent on them.

Mom would store all her recipes into a program. Step-father eagerly catalogued every gardening magazine into a database. I would compose homework on the word processor. Brother would play his video games on them. And each of us could remain in our own area of the house e-mailing each other.

But back then, computing was all local. Even with networks, you typically had a server in house, with workstations tied to it via wire. There was no such thing as "the cloud".

If all of our communication, data, productivity, and entertainment was stored on a single server, then what happens if we can't get to a workstation?

You're screwed. Network computing still couldn't offer much mobility.

Unfortately, in the 1980s, we didn't have the Internet. The only way to access a server remotely was via telephone, and they were landline phones back then, requiring a modem. Not very conducive to traveling.

The Utopia my step-father envisioned for our house never caught on, despite a good faith effort from each of us.

Today, my world has become increasingly transient.

I want less stuff and fewer possessions. I don't want anything that ties me down to a physical location. That's what homeownership was for me, a shackle and chain that required me to be there, mowing the lawn, cleaning the air filters, paying the bills.

You can see why I love motorcycles. It represents freedom for me. I could get the same transient lifestyle from a car, but a car is larger, more costly, and somehow feels like I have more to manage.

Now, there's cloud computing.

The locally hosted server that once hosted all of our data, facilitated our communication, ran all of our software, and provided us with entertainment, is now mirrored across hundreds of servers spanning the Earth. What's more, is that it's cross-platform, so that my cell phone, laptop, and tablet, all can access it flawlessly.

The Utopia is here now.

And just how much more freedom does that give a motorcycle rider like me, who runs his own Internet business?

A great deal.

So, why do I even bother to live in the same place for more than a month? Why do I even bother to own furniture?

I can understand that most people need to feel grounded. They need neighbors and friends they see each week. They need the familiarity and predictability of the same restaurant, the same streets, and the same weather patterns.

I just never wanted that. I didn't grow up with a close family. I didn't have close friends. We always moved around a lot, and I had to change schools often. When you grow up this way, you feel unattached. You need to keep moving.

wyoming highway 220 motorcycle
Wyoming, Highway 220

If anything, and as much as I hate to admit, but Facebook is perfect. I can meet people in person, get to know them a little, and then just follow them online. I don't need to keep seeing them each week.

I guess even my friends are stored on the cloud.

If people never live in the same place for more than a month and change towns each time, what does that do a society?  Do we bother to make friends knowing that we won't be around?  Will we still join clubs, make commitments, or make large purchases?  Will be become more diverse, or will we feel more empty?

How much of a ghost am I if I'm not grounded? If I enter into a town, stay there for a couple of weeks, and continue on, perhaps people only catch me out of the corner of their eye, and then I disappear, hitting the highway yet again, just watching the world go by, living off the cloud.


  1. Steve:

    I like to have roots, but cutting the grass - NOT so much. Living out of a suitcase (saddlebag) sounds glamorous but gets tiring after a while. Sure, starting a long trip is exciting but near the end you need to go to a place called Home, at least I do.

    I like the idea of accessing your own data while travelling and there seems to be many alternatives for doing this. I like technology but only if it works.

    Riding the Wet Coast

  2. Interesting post that triggered some thinking.

    First of all your step-dad was a visionary, just ahead of his time. Today we are becoming more electronically nomadic if I can put it that way but at the same time we are, paradoxically, becoming ever more closely tethered to our own electronic worlds. The more freedom we have, the less we have in a way.

    I'm a bit like Bob. I love to get away and live out of a suitcase for a while but I also like my "stuff", so coming home to those things I enjoy (tools, books, computers, cameras, etc., etc.) is important to me. And of course home is usually where your family is and so coming home is most importantly reuniting with those near and dear to you.

    And so while the "Then Came Bronson" nomadic lifestyle has its attractions, not least of which is an implied sense of few or no responsibilities, I think most of us need to feel grounded in some way, and having a robust connection to the cloud just won't do for most of us.

  3. Familiar history except I am the father. I've been involved in networking since the late 70s and the Internet before it was commercial. Seems like a long time ago...

    I like the concept of a nomadic lifestyle and I hope the dream will stay alive. Getting rid of all the "stuff" is a real challenge. I'm still in the "Facebook is evil" camp. Maybe if it was run as a non-profit there may be hope...

  4. I think I'm the same way. If my wife were to tell me I had 10 minutes to get out of her life, I'd be able to collect up everything I need/want and still have four minutes to argue with her.

    She wouldn't do that; firstly, because I'm awesome, but secondly because she is particularly averse to change.

    I think both things are programmed into the human DNA. First there is the desire to stay. In everything we do, we seek and identify patterns. We learn what is safe, what isn't - what works, what doesn't. This is how we learned to farm: we stayed put, we watched the grass grow, then we made it grow into things we liked to eat. We built societies, we invented for ourselves angry gods who demand that we live live according to singular paths, we built immovable fortresses, and we now pay good money to listen to country singers extoll the virtues of never leaving a small town.

    But there is the other side of us. Anthropological evidence shows that all of us originate in Africa. There was (and is) plenty of space in Africa in which to thrive, but we pushed out to every possible corner. We are the only animal (apart from those we carry with us) to live on every continent. And now in our history we are pushing out beyond the planet.

    I think each of us carries both the "stay" and "go" trait. With different people one is more dominant than the other. We need both types of person, of course. Here, you're saying that the "go" trait is more dominant with you. I say embrace that fact to the best of your ability.

    I know that I have a strong desire not to sink my roots too deep. But I've always been attracted to people and cultures who do. That's what originally drew me to the UK. I am constantly torn between my need to go, and my love for those who won't come with me.

  5. Enjoyed your blog, and I envy the thought of just moving on from one town to the next. Reminds me of the old western movies when that stranger cowboy comes into the saloon. I suppose if I was independently wealthy, or if I didn't mind working odd jobs from town to town, I would enjoy that kind of freedom.

  6. I have reached a point in life where I feel I don't need 90 percent of the crap I have. If my job allowed me to work off a computer and travel I would do it in a heart beat. The kid finishing college and my daughter going to college in two more years is the problem. My mortgage is done in about 4 years, then I will be free, first thing will be to move south or south west.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)