Part of my opposition to online education is that it seems to me to be a solution in search of a problem. One can imagine situations where it would be necessary or helpful — bringing education to the handicapped, or to rural communities, etc. — but the motivation for a disruptive transformation of the normal method of education seems to be lacking. As I frequently ask in this connection: is there a sudden shortage of rooms with chairs?
Similarly with cloud computing. I use Dropbox out of convenience, as I am often moving between computers — but I could easily have set up a similar system myself without involving a third party. One could say that the remote backup is helpful in the unlikely event that all three of my machines simultaneously fail, but if we’re taking longshot scenarios like that into account, Dropbox could also drop off the face of the earth. If I wanted to make my system more robust, I could easily purchase four or five cheap network hard drives and hide them in various places in my apartment and office. I could even set them to power up only when the backup is in progress, which is certainly more environmentally sound than the ridiculous server farms that all the big “cloud computing” operations use.
For application delivery, it’s even more ridiculous. Again, one can imagine scenarios where the equivalent of logging into the mainframe would be preferable to running something on your own hardware — but basic office software is far from falling into that category. And there are clear disadvantages, since an internet connection might be unreliable or totally unavailable, etc. (Certainly all of us who have used web-based “course management software” know that there are huge drawbacks to having to load a new webpage every damn time you want to do anything.)
This seems to be the kind of thing discussed in this op-ed about ebooks — a heedless embrace of new technology just because it’s new. His example of the rush to build an entire civilization around cars is particularly poignant, but one could say the same thing of the rise of cell phones over against land lines (which basically destroyed the experience of, you know, talking on the phone), or the rise of processed food (which provides admirable consistency and dependability, but at the cost of flavor and nutritional value), etc.
I sometimes wonder if the worst thing about the capitalist system is precisely what is most touted as its biggest benefit: the drive to constant innovation. In principle, it sounds great, but the dynamics of the system mean that every new innovation is bound to be implemented in the most thoughtless possible way — repeating over and over again the foolishness of tearing out public transit lines because it would be so cool if everyone had their own individual car!
At the same time, it’s impossible for me to envision an agency that would make decisions on how best to use new technologies, etc.