The cloud. The concept of connecting things via the internet. It seems like the natural progression of so many of the things we do, from moving toward music & video streaming to the way we store frequently accessed files.

It wasn’t that long ago that we laughed that everyone was getting away from CDs for music, encoding everything into MP3s and slapping them onto a Walkman or iPod. This had several advantages, including overcoming the disc skipping of portable CD players had and maintaining the hiss-free edge over cassettes. As this grew, storage capacities kept leaping forward to accommodate larger and larger music collections so we weren’t connecting to the PC every day or so to swap things out.

Local Data? Who Does That?

At 30 I already feel like the old guy in a room full of youngsters when I watch the way they consume media. When I got my Galaxy S4 one of the first orders of business was moving my memory card over and making sure the music collection on it was up to date. My propensity for a locally stored collection appears superfluous to some. It seems for many that storing music locally is old school, that streaming is where it’s at. “I just use Pandora or Mog and get all my music easy,” I was told proudly recently by a younger fellow.

That’s cool, and I like to have Pandora on myself from time to time. For me though, streaming is better for when I want to be passive, when I want to work and have stuff I like on in the background without having to give it a lot of thought. Other times I have something specific in mind I want to listen to. Plus my local collection plays at a higher bit-rate than streamed music, though admittedly the chasm between is shrinking.

Maybe that explains why even hardcore Apple guys I know stick with the 16GB iPhone when 32GB+ is available. Other than apps and photos, if you’re going cloud-based with a lot of your media, it really alleviates storage needs on your end.

A Ubiquitous Connection

What happens when your phone’s not on unlimited data and there’s no wifi network? How much streaming will you want to do, barring the obvious answer of “Well then don’t get a phone without unlimited data”? What happens when you’re in a dead zone with no data signal? Ask any teenager that and they’ll give you a confused face; the concept of not being connected hasn’t occurred to them. In their mind every device — basically every person — is tethered into this massive, invisible entity. And maybe not being connected is an increasingly moot concern. Dead zone areas are diminishing, and many people’s attitude would probably be “Just don’t go there” to boot.

In this way a smartphone or other mobile device functions as a gateway into this other digital realm — one that’s made the sharing of thoughts and information freer and faster than ever before. With all the good and bad that comes with that.

It occurred to me in a new way when unlocking the screen of my S4 to check some messages that calling it a smartphone seems passé. These things are best served as mobile media devices, managing our online existences and daily schedules far beyond a phone call. It’s becoming Star Trek’s Tricorder without the mineral scans, but just wait. I’m sure that app is coming.

The next step in a digital society is a world of mobile-computer-carrying people, accessing data and creating ripples in the world around them. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not. Reminds me of an analogy used about Twitter a few years back where it was described as an endless stream of information. Your logging on is just a selection of which point in that stream you’re dipping your hands into. You can make your ripples from anywhere, throwing tiny pieces of yourself out there into the digital landscape.

It’s beautiful, scary, and damn impressive, and you don’t even need Google Glass to see it (though that’s a discussion for another post).