I know, it seems an odd question. But a few different things over the last couple of days got me thinking …
Years ago, before either Google or Apple ecosystems were really deserving of the term, I managed all my device synchronisation manually: I decided what content got synced on what devices. My music too: iTunes was allowed to play it, but not to manage it – I took care of the folder structures and meta-data myself. And the miscellaneous notes I kept were in a folder full of text files, the format deliberately chosen to be compatible with anything, not sitting inside Apple’s Notes app.
My view was that it should be me, not some piece of software or online service, that made the decisions about how things got done. Fast-forward to today, however, and things are quite different around here …
I let iCloud take care of device syncing and iOS backups. My email still sits on a friend’s server, but peek into my iCloud settings and all those other switches are set to on. I gave in a couple of years ago and ticked the box to allow iTunes to manage my music. I have iTunes Match, and instead of manually copying across the music I want on my iPhone, I tend to simply download it from Match.
I’m not quite ready to give up owning my music in favor of streaming, but I’m beginning to wonder why. About ten years ago, I finally got rid of all my CDs after asking myself why I would want a tonne of plastic disks cluttering up the place? I must confess that – obscure stuff aside, that might not be available on Spotify – I’m not quite sure my insistence on physically having the ones and zeroes on my own Mac makes much more sense.
My Mac backups, too, are automated. Apple, not me, decided they should be hourly. Apple, not me, decides how long particular backups are retained before being over-written. Granted I’m a belt-and-braces man, so use Time Machine plus Carbon Copy Cloner plus online backup, but once I’d configured it all I let automation and schedules take care of it all for me.
In general, I’m not a fan of Steve Jobs’ vision of ridding us of the file-system – I like my filesystem, thanks! – but I do love being able to start an article at home on my MacBook Pro in Pages then continue it on the train on my iPad, perhaps do some edits to it in a coffee-shop on my MacBook Air, all without having to know or care where it is actually stored.
I tend to do the new year’s resolution thing. I aim to cycle 3000 miles this year. I decided the same thing last year and didn’t, so this year I opted to enrol the help of some technology. I invested in a Garmin Edge 810 Bluetooth-connected GPS, which talks to my iPhone which talks to the web.
This means that with the press of two buttons and a tap of the screen, I have a complete online record of every ride I do, complete with an embarrassing amount of data. It’s all there: distances, times, speeds, calories burned – even the speed and direction of that stiff headwind I claimed to be battling.
I only need access to the numbers myself, but as I have a bunch of cycling mates on Strava, all of whom share their data, and because a bit of peer pressure can’t hurt, I decided I might as well join in. So I set my data to public, and now the whole world can see how slow I am uphill.
What strikes me about all this is that I have repeatedly made a bunch of decisions to sacrifice control (option, command …) of my technology in order to gain convenience. Where once I wanted everything to be under my own control, today I’m much more ‘Meh, so long as it works.’
And I’m a tech guy. I like understanding how technology works, and I like making my own tech decisions. The average consumer out there not only doesn’t care to take control of their tech, most of the time they don’t even know that the choices exist.
Fast-forward five or ten years, and I wonder how much further down that slippery slope we will slide. Will we even have personal devices in ten years’ time, or will all the data, apps and settings – the stuff that makes a device personal – be in the cloud, and we just logon to whatever chunk of hardware happens to be nearest at the time?
Will even techies decide that Jobs was right, file systems are the old paradigm, and all that matters is the right data being available to us in the right place at the right time?
In short, will we give up our insistence on calling all the shots and simply allow automation and technological intelligence to figure out how we need things to work? And is that necessarily a bad thing? As ever, let us know your views in the comments …