Jason Griffey has a couple of thoughtful blog posts that are well worth considering for their potential ramifications on how people are increasingly using computing devices and the impacts these changes may have on library services.
Although it is the release of iCloud, a new Apple service to store your data “in the cloud,” where it is available from any device, that spurred these posts, Griffey wisely sees both the broader roots and deeper implications.
The whole concept of iCloud seems to emerge from the lessons of iOS. Make things easier, more intuitive, less cumbersome…in other words, remove friction….and people will flock to your product. One of the criticisms of iOS devices is, I believe, actually its secret sauce; you don’t have to understand a file system. With the release of OS X Lion and the introduction of iOS 5, it’s clear that Apple wants alll information to be application driven. That is, any piece of data lives in the app that can deal with it. You can read a PDF on an iOS device, but you can only interact with it while using an application to do so. There’s no “saving” the file to a location in a file system (the “desktop” or “documents” folder) on an iOS device. There is just application, and data, and no other metaphor. This is what iCloud and Lion are bringing to the desktop, and where Apple has the potential to push us towards yet another new metaphor of computing.
What would a computing world without a filesystem be like?
On the good side you wouldn’t need to spend time managing your crap. You wouldn’t need to create your own idiosyncratic hierarchical filing system. Presumably, neither would you lose anything. Also, no matter which device you were using — your phone, your pad device, your laptop or desktop — your stuff would automatically be there.
On the bad side you’re relying on a few things over which you have little or no control. You’re relying on the ability to access the network. It’s true that at least some applications offer a way to have a local copy and sync that copy with the cloud copy, but if you haven’t done that, or that isn’t an option, then when you are away from either a WiFi access point or a cell network (such as where my Dad lives), then you are dead in the water. You will also be reliant on the cloud service provider keeping your data safe. It isn’t entirely clear (yet) what, if any, procedures Apple has in place to backup and preserve your data from loss.
For libraries, the implications are not entirely clear but are unlikely to be pleasant. Griffey points out one issue: “Apple means for iCloud and Lion to be tied to an individual, and assumes that a computer is used by a single person. In looking at the way they’ve set up Lion, iCloud, and iOS5, I’m not at all clear how shared systems (aka, public use computers) might be able to benefit from the advances that Apple is putting in front of users.” Also, the general trend line is one that we’ve already been experiencing with e-book readers but will get only worse in a world where data does not really exist independent from an application and an individual user of that application. As Griffey puts it:
I’ve spent some time in recent presentations talking about how personal electronics are designed to be personal, and not institutional. A lot of issues we have with managing things like Kindles, iPads, Nooks, and such, are that they just aren’t designed to be dealt with on an institutional basis. The expectation is that they have an owner (singular), and that all the files and interactions on the devices are those of that person. Things get complicated quickly when you need to have these devices managed by more than one person, or checked out to patrons. As a user, I love the direction that Apple is taking it’s computers…but as a librarian, and as an IT manager, I am not looking forward to computers going down the same road of single-user-expected that personal electronics have.
I’m with Griffey — I love the idea of frictionless computing but as a librarian this looks like a direction that will prove difficult for libraries. I’d love to be wrong about this, so if I am, please tell me so in a comment below.