It's time to quit hiding behind clouds

I admit it, I’ve gotten old. Never thought it would happen to me. Certainly not in the ‘60s, when I was in college. Not when my wife and I moved from Chicago to Wrangell in 1976 and thought we’d never run out of energy working seven days a week at the Sentinel. Not even when I broke a leg playing softball in 1999 or shattered a kneecap in 2001.

It’s not that I believe in eternity. Rather, I knew I would age, but never expected I would get cranky about “the way things used to be,” much like how your favorite uncle makes everyone listen to his stories about the old days.

Sadly, it has happened at age 70. I’ve become that older relative.

It’s not broken bones or arthritis or failing eyesight that turned me old. It is Amazon and all the other aspects of the internet-connected world that dominates life these days. I have turned crotchety and cranky at society’s reliance on digital everything, all the time, and our failing ability to live without it.

Last week’s outage of Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud-computing provider in the country, prompted reporters nationwide to ask people: How did you cope? Like it was some cataclysmic event. The answers are as depressing as discovering no one makes parts any longer for that Zenith console TV in the finely grained wood cabinet — the one I bought on a deal in the 1980s and intended to nurse along until I moved into a nursing home.

Want to feel old? Want to feel that the world has turned lazy, beholden to connectivity (whatever that is) and automated appliances? Read on.

The Wall Street Journal last week quoted California resident Kyle Lerner after his internet-connected cat feeding bowl stopped dispensing food when Amazon’s cloud computing service got lost in the clouds. “We had to manually give them food like in ancient times,” the 29-year-old said. As if a 29-year-old even knows ancient times.

Another internet fan with his life in the cloud, Steve Peters, of Los Angeles, told the newspaper his Roomba robot vacuum wouldn’t clean up the blueberry muffin crumbs on his kitchen floor from breakfast. Without the cloud, the app on his phone could not summon Roomba.

“I had to resort to getting a broom and dustpan,” Peters, said. “It was crazy.” At least at age 60, Peters knew how to use a broom. But didn’t his mother tell him to eat over the plate and not drop crumbs on the floor?

Losing access to Amazon’s Alexa service made St. Louis resident Mark Edelstein feel lonely and helpless, he told The Wall Street Journal. “We chat more during the day than me and my wife do,” he said of the electronic, impersonal, faceless digital assistant. “Since the pandemic, I’ve become tied to the Alexa system,” Edelstein said. Without it, “you almost have separation anxiety.”

Florida-resident Samantha Sherhag didn’t suffer anxiety; she merely had to get up and take over the job from Alexa. When the cloud is working, she tells Alexa to turn on the lights. “Over the last two years, I’ve grown lazy,” she said. “It’s easier to tell Alexa to turn the lights on and off. She listens better than the kids.”

Sure, the internet has made life better in so many ways. But last week’s cloud outage is a reminder to keep that broom handy, remember where the light switch is on the wall, and that cats will shred your furniture if you don’t feed them.


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