Emails, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Google maps, newspapers, Spotify, Netflix...the variety of functions smartphones offer seems endless. As I observe others on my commute into work, it’s clear that it isn’t only me who has become troublingly dependent on his phone.
Most readers of this blog will have witnessed (and been confused by) the shifting baseline of technological advancement, however for many people currently in education, the ubiquity of tech is a comfortable norm. Indeed, the days of the suited, white-haired CEO are giving way to trendy, T-shirt-wearing progenitors of the biggest moves in how we engage with the world.
So what exactly has changed in recent years?
The way data are stored signifies one of the biggest shifts. Take music for example: tapes gave way to CDs and from thence to the download market where you could select which tracks you actually want to buy and store them on your device. Yet now we find ourselves in the world of subscription streaming: the music is not even stored on your device but rather delivered to you as required. The same is true of video, and software; no longer do we purchase a physical copy, we subscribe to a cloud-hosted service in order to have access to a product for as long as we wish to use it. Combine this with mobile technology and suddenly we can access our music, videos and photos anytime, anyplace, anywhere - we have entered the ‘Martini’ era of technology if you like.
We no longer need to dedicate space to storage, (cupboard or drive space) and we can be secure in the knowledge that we are always using the latest, most up-to-date version. Web technology means that we don’t have to worry about compatibility across different platforms and devices, (remember the VHS - Betamax wars of the 70s and 80s?). As long as we have access to the internet we can use any service we have subscribed to, and poor-quality internet is rapidly becoming history.
Furthermore, the cloud makes it easier to share material, whether these are documents in an online drive, photographs on your Pinterest wall, or simply your musings on the latest X-Factor finalist. It is far simpler to collaborate in a cloud-hosted environment than managing multiple emails and/or texts; the immediacy of the online environment facilitates discussion and the sharing of information in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago.
In recent years, data security has been a big question, with hackers looming large in the headlines. However, most of the major data breaches that have occurred over the last five years have been from internal, not cloud-based databases. End to end encryption, combined with robust security measures, (Amazon Web Services has more than 1800 security controls governing its services) has meant that cloud hosting is more secure than the majority of locally held, internal databases.
Finally, the cloud ‘democratises’ technology. There is no need to purchase and manage complex servers and data services. With all of this being dealt with by the cloud provider, it frees up the user to take advantage of the sorts of technology which would not have been feasible a decade ago.
Most importantly, cloud servers allow us to focus on what we want to use the technology for, rather than how we are going to make it work. Ultimately isn’t this why we use it in the first place? Increasingly, we are being given the means to adapt our tech to our own needs.
All of this raises the question of how we will be using technology in the years to come. In their 2016 report, Ofcom indicated that amongst adults under 35 years of age, 90% of internet access was through their smartphone.
It’s also important to look at whom is using technology in this way as well. These are teenagers and young adults - the decision-makers of tomorrow. If their natural way of working is through their mobile devices, it seems highly unlikely that they will shift these patterns back to fixed terminals and laptops. The drive for cloud-hosted, mobile technology is only going to become stronger, and soon (like VHS and Betamax) the things that went before will be a memory. The future is bright, bizarrely, because it is cloudy!
 BBC News, (2016). Can we trust cloud providers to keep our data safe?
 Ofcom, The Communications Market Report 2016, 2016