Hey you, get off of my cloud!

Dude, where’s all my stuff?!

These days it seems my head and pretty much my entire digital life is “in the clouds”

Yes, I’ll admit (grudgingly) that I’m old enough to remember things like CD’s, printed photographs, DVD’s, computer software that came in a box, and even those weird looking papery things with all the words on them — what did we call them again?. . .that’s right, “books”.  Now all of this stuff has been magically transported to this great magical “cloud” in the sky or possibly North Carolina.

I realized this the other day when I was sorting through my CD collection trying to find a rare Pixies import that I had found on eBay a few years back.  As I scanned through my collection, I began to wonder when the last time was that I had purchased an actual CD.  As I began to rummage through the dusty racks (I was pretty bored) I realized there really wasn’t anything there after 2008.   Like most people, I had long since digitized my music collection, and I rarely found myself playing the actual CD anymore.

I mean, who does that? Even I’m not that old.

This of course brought up the question, as my wife had many times before– why was I keeping all of these CDs?  The music is already there on various computers and iPods, so why was I holding on to these stupid little shiny discs?

This is when that little panicky voice inside my head began to shout, “But what if something happens?!”  What if there’s a fire or a freak electrical storm that fries every electronic device in the house? How would I be able to recreate my substantial collection of obscure one-hit wonders from 1980’s?  The answer here, of course, is that digital “cloud” thingy that we’ve all been hearing so much about.


Let’s go to the cloud!

After a particularly brutal hard drive crash a few years back, I was sufficiently freaked out by the experience that I began backing up everything in my digital world.

I now have stuff stored on scores of DVDs, external hard drives, and yes, I have even uploaded everything into multiple little digital clouds sponsored by companies such as Apple and Amazon.com.  Not only that, but I even think my Dad now has a box full of CD copies stashed in his attic three hours away just in case the zombie apocalypse only happens locally, I can rest easy knowing that all of my valuable Wang Chung albums will not be lost.

Preserving your cultural legacy

It’s not just me either.  Last year, music downloads surpassed CD sales for the first time in history.  Ebooks are now outselling hardback books on Amazon and movies are now being downloaded or streamed online.  Browsing through the CD section in a store has become as weird and unfamiliar to us as running up to Blockbuster to rent a movie [Editor’s Note: Not that you probably noticed but Blockbuster recently declared bankruptcy and has shut down most of it’s U.S. stores]

Kodak has not only gotten out of the film business, but they have gotten out of business all together after realizing (too late) that no one was actually buying point and shoot cameras or printing photos anymore.

Sure we continue to take photos and videos of our family on our smartphones, but most of us never actually get around to printing those photos or creating that DVD movie.  We simply transfer them up to the magical cloud and hope that someday our descendants will remember our Flickr account password.  Keep in mind that this is coming from someone whose entire childhood is locked away on 35mm slides and VHS tapes, which will soon be the technological equivalent of the obsolete CD and DVD collection that is currently sitting in my basement.


So what’s your point here old nostalgic man?

I’m starting to realize that perhaps this whole cloud thingy is perhaps some kind of zen-like life lesson in disguise.  Maybe we don’t need to have all of these physical possessions within arm’s reach.  Maybe we don’t actually have to go out and buy that limited edition Star Wars double-diamond super platinum edition box set for the 53rd time just to prove that we are true fans.

Sure I’ll pull up Netflix or Hulu to binge on “Mad Men” or to rewatch the latest episode of “The Walking Dead” but do I really need to have the DVD box sitting on my shelf, not really.  Do I actually need to own a physical copy of Fight Club, Zombieland, Lord of the Rings, or The Shawshank Redemption sitting at my house waiting for me?  I mean it’s all right there in the digital cloud.  These days there are probably ten different ways that I could watch any of these movies without having to move anything other than my finger, but . . .


Sometimes it’s not enough.

As human beings, as I’m assuming many of you are, we are tactile creatures who have this unique ability to attach sentimental meaning to pretty much everything we come in contact with.

These physical objects are in some way archives, signposts, and semi-permanant records of who we are, what we like, and to some extent what we believe.  Who among us hasn’t gone to someone’s house that we just met and browsed their bookcases or thumbed through their CD or DVD collection in order to get a better idea of who they are?  We become like little cultural anthropologists digging through their archives trying to unearth their true personality without, you know, actually having to ask them. 

Those things we choose to keep eventually become our cultural legacy and historical record of our existence.

Somehow, scrolling through someone’s iPod playlist doesn’t really have the same effect.  Besides the fact that you can’t really covertly scan the contents of someone’s iPod or Kindle without them noticing, it’s not really the same thing.  Music playlists change all the time, we don’t think twice about deleting songs and albums as our tastes in music change or we run out of storage space.  It may tell us something about who we are (or think we are) at the moment, but it doesn’t really tell us anything about our history to the twisty path we may have taken to get to where we are today.

In contrast, when’s the last time your threw out a CD from your music collection, or tossed a DVD.  Even the one that had that guy in it you really like but it turned out the movie was horrible.  For whatever reason, we keep it.  We keep everything and eventually it becomes our cultural legacy and historical record of our existence.

Instead of “I think, therefore I am” maybe it’s, “I existed, because I have collected all of this crap”

That’s the thing, while our vitual collection may be a current snapshot of what we like at this moment, our physical collections are often far more interesting because they include everyhing — the good, the bad, and the I-can’t-believe-I-actually-bought-that-stupid-movie

Sure I have my Kindle for reading the latest impulse buy, but I will also have a collection of books that really mean something to me. Books like “Art & Fear”, the “Artist’s Way”, the “Creative Habit”,  or even the “Complete Calvin & Hobbes”.  Books where I have scribbled in the margins and doggy-eared the corners.  These are the books that have taught me something important and have made a meaningful impact on my life. These are the books that I have interacted with, and these are the books that I find myself returning to again and again.

These are also the books that my children will someday have to sort out after I’m gone.

Sure maybe they will simply pull a rented dumpster up to the door (as they have often theatened) and just toss them out — but then again, maybe they will take a few minutes to look through them.  Read my thoughts and perhaps get a better understanding about why their dad was so freakin’ weird.

For you it may not be boooks, for you it may be  movies, vinyl albums, little ceramic figurines, or something else.

Whatever it is, why not embrace your cultural legacy, keep your crap and make your heirs do all of the heavy lifting. In fact, I’ve been thinking about adding an addendum to my Will that states. . .

“I love you, and please remember to always lift with your legs”


Tell us what you think!

What are you storing in the digital cloud (if anything)?

Do you ever wonder if anyone will be able to access your digital stuff after you’re gone?

Do you miss going through your friend’s CD, book, or DVD collection as much as I do?


Image courtesy of Karin Dalziel

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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