Tap into the po­ten­tial of the ‘cloud’

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Dur­ingmy re­cent 10-day­home trip toChina, half of which was spent on the road, I bor­rowedmy 84-year-old­mom’s cell phone, with an amaz­ing bat­tery time, to keep in touch with peo­ple. It was ad­umb­phone and even mademe iron­i­cally con­spic­u­ous at an in­tel­li­gent learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment con­fer­ence, where I had a pre­sen­ta­tion on, what else but, fluid learn­ing in to­day’s “bring your own­de­vice” en­vi­ron­ment.

When I re­turned tomy home­town, the dumb phone also made me a laugh­ing stock of for­mer class­mates, who, like al­most ev­ery­one else, boast of some kind of shiny, whiz-bang touch-screen smart­phones.

On trains and buses I sawthat most peo­ple were busy chat­ting with friends, watch­ing movies or play­ing games on their smart­phones. The de­vices were used a great deal to con­sume in­for­ma­tion and to chit-chat on­line, be­cause peo­ple still use com­put­ers to do “se­ri­ous” work, and still store con­tents in com­put­ers which take up space and slow down speed.

So I asked sev­eral peo­ple why not put their con­tents in the cloud? In­vari­ably, I got that “glazed” look. What cloud?

In the United States, I amin the habit of puttingmy con­tents in a cloud-based stor­age space such as Ever­note, Drop­box or Google Drive, which al­lows me to ac­cess them any­time any­where us­ing mo­bile de­vices. Such cloud-based solutions fa­cil­i­tate many types of per­for­mance, and in­ci­den­tal or con­text-based learn­ing. With cloud-based ser­vices, one can start and stop any­time and pick up on an­other de­vice from where he/she left off. Users can also pro­duce con­tent us­ing mul­ti­ple de­vices and ag­gre­gate their ef­forts in the cloud, as well as in­vite col­lab­o­ra­tors or read­ers if team­work is required.

China’s mo­bile de­vices are ap­pear­ing like mush­rooms af­ter a spring rain, chal­leng­ing es­tab­lished play­ers such as Ap­ple. Yet much dis­cus­sion on hand-held de­vices is fo­cused on their func­tions as stand­alone gad­gets, in­stead of their abil­ity to make learn­ing and per­sonal pro­duc­tiv­ity eas­ier. Users hoard frag­men­tized con­tents in mul­ti­ple de­vices, vul­ner­a­ble to risks of mal­ware, viruses and hard­ware fail­ures. Hor­ror sto­ries of data loss abound, but the cul­ture of cloud com­put­ing is still not in sight.

Google’s ag­gres­sive push of its cloud­based ser­vices such asGoogle Doc and Google Drive is ef­fec­tively chang­ing the way peo­ple work, be­cause such ser­vices en­able multi-user col­lab­o­ra­tion, cre­at­ing con­di­tions for re­mote teams, tele­con­fer­enc­ing and even telecom­mut­ing. Baidu, China’s coun­ter­part forGoogle, of­fers “baidu cloud” for users to share doc­u­ments and col­lab­o­rate, but dur­ing my short trip I didn’t meet any­onewho uses such ser­vices. In­stead, peo­ple use thumb drives and e-mails to share doc­u­ments, cre­at­ing mul­ti­ple copies, po­ten­tially in­con­sis­tent with each other, and wast­ing time on edit­ing and merg­ing.

This is not a geek rant­ing about his dig­i­tal habits. But there is a tremen­dous dis­con­nect between what is tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble and what peo­ple choose to use. With top-notch smart­phones in hand, users are not do­ing them­selves a fa­vor by sim­ply killing time watch­ing videos, play­ing games and up­dat­ing their WeChat mo­ments. They miss the op­por­tu­nity to use their de­vices to help with learn­ing, per­sonal pro­duc­tiv­ity and team col­lab­o­ra­tion. It’s not that theChi­nese are in­ca­pable of in­no­va­tive uses of tech­nolo­gies; in fact, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see peo­ple us­ing GPS func­tions in smart­phones to call taxis. The idea is to raise aware­ness that there are more po­ten­tial uses to be tapped into, and it is pos­si­ble to in­crease per­sonal ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency by ex­pand­ing and deep­en­ing the uses of the ex­ist­ing cy­ber in­fra­struc­ture.

Quite a large per­cent­age of Chi­nese families now have wifi ac­cess and own mul­ti­ple smart­phones. Ev­ery­thing is ready for the “clouds”, which hang there, drip­ping with pos­si­bil­i­ties. Un­less such clouds are ef­fec­tively used, peo­ple’s smart­phones will be no bet­ter than dumb phones.

I have a vi­sion of learn­ing while flow­ing freely between de­vices, peo­ple, and the phys­i­cal and vir­tual worlds. Cloud com­put­ing has the prom­ise to help with such flu­id­ity and flex­i­bil­ity. Nowis the time to de­liver that prom­ise. The au­thor is a US-based in­struc­tional de­signer, lit­er­ary trans­la­tor and colum­nist writ­ing on cross-cul­tural is­sues.

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