Yesterday, the worst thing happened: GMail, source of all that is good when it comes to keeping me constantly in touch with people, went down.
Of course I turned to Twitter to a) confirm that this wasn't a special punishment being visited upon me for an unknown offense and b) banter about how much it sucked to be out of contact with everyone.
Fortunately, during this brief service drought, I was not at my desk -- which meant I had my cell phone. Not that GMail worked any better on it, of course. But at least I had people's contact info if I really needed it instead of being dependent on chat functions that had suddenly disappeared.
It was, once upon a time, a minor miracle when I managed to remember a few phone numbers enough to use them on a regular basis. There was my own, of course -- which has been long since forgotten even though we had the same phone number for 10 years. And there was the number for the neighbors across the street -- which I managed to call while sleep walking one night.
But there was also my great-grandmother's phone number. It was the same for my entire life -- and it's still in use! My grandparents have it now. And I can't remember it for love or money.
In far too many ways for strict comfort, I am overly dependent on electronic means of data storage. I used to have a paper address book, but when addresses kept changing, it just got easier to keep that info in my contacts list. My calendar is online, accessed via my phone.
From Dropbox to LiveJournal, my life is recorded and stored on servers that don't belong to me.
When I asked a few people how they would react to the loss of their cloud, the reactions varied.
The general consensus -- and it is a correct one -- is that storing things locally is safer. The cloud is just so damned convenient. But, then, I also regard the decade's worth of journal entries over at LJ as important, which other folks might not do.
I was going to say that I DO save the really important things on my hard drive -- my novel, drafts of short stories, half-written letters. But then there's that contact info. There's a long history of my life in LJ entries. (Okay, and quizzes.)
One of the greatest selling points when it comes to online digital storage is convenience. You can access it from anywhere and you don't have to be a really tech-y person accessing a virtual desktop of your home machine from your smart phone or anything like that. But the attendant risk is that it could all be inaccessible without warning. I don't even mean in some giant zombie apocalypse end of the world sort of way. I mean, GMail goes down and you can't access the email you need for work. I mean, LJ disappears and you have no way of contacting that friend who shared all of your interests. I mean, Facebook blows up and no one will know to wire you cash to London because your luggage was stolen.
(That last is a scam. Don't do that!)
My mom bought me a computer when I was in high school because I was spending all of my time in the library computer lab. (In all honestly, about a third of that time was spent in the stacks, reading romance novels and sci-fi anthologies.) It came with a trial membership to Prodigy, which she totally used but which I was not allowed to.
MAYBE I'm a tiny bit bitter about that.
It wasn't until I went away to college that I delved into the wild frontier of the Internet, hanging out in chat rooms and talking to people from all around the world. It occurred to me then, and has stuck with me ever since, that -- Mandy's fascination with last tweets and all -- there is always that chance, that possibility that someone is simply going to disappear and I am never going to know what happened. That's the hard part of knowing people online.
I know some of you -- to varying degrees -- and if you stopped commenting here, I would wonder. At odd moments of my day, sometimes, I would stop and hope for the best for you.
Of course tech companies want us to believe in the stability and durability of their storage solutions. But there is, to me, always going to be something ephemeral about anything I am not holding in my hands. I realize this is funny, because I love the friends I met online just as much as the friends I met in person. I carry my iPad AND my Kindle with me on a fairly frequent basis. I can't navigate to any place new without GoogleMaps on my phone.
But as much as I embrace it, I remember: a wire crossed, a cable pulled, and I could be without it. And where would I be then?
GMail was down for maybe 20 minutes. But I was left thinking about a weird sort of digital mortality for far longer than that.
I think, tonight, I will pick up a paper address book. Just in case.