The future is now

People can talk about the future, and you can think you get it. But sometimes you need to experience it to truly appreciate it.

My timing may be a little off here, but I think it was sometime around the early 90’s. People in Hypercolor t-shirts were talking about an ‘information super-highway’. Preparations were being made. Infrastructure was being laid. The future was on our doorstep.

I remember very clearly thinking something back then that seems ridiculous now – what do they mean by ‘information’? What do I need ‘information’ for? I have the TV. If I need to know something more, I can always go to the library. What other kind of ‘information’ is there?

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without the internet. How did I work out which hotel to stay in? What did I do when song lyrics weren’t printed on the CD (or cassette!) sleeve? Did I really get most of my news from the Advertiser? And how did I find out what my friends were eating for dinner every night?

In the 50’s people of the future were expected to be immune from the effects of the sun.

Of course the problem (for me) back in the early 90’s was that I didn’t really have any context to put the concept into. I could only use what I knew at the time to inform my picture of the future. It’s kinda like those crazy future concept cars you see from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s laughable in some respects to see what they came up with back then, but in another sense you can kinda see what they were getting at. The best they could do was take what they knew then and try to project it into the future.

So since I already look a little slow off the mark, I might as well keep going. For me it was much the same with the ‘cloud’. I first heard the term a few years back, and again I really didn’t have much context to put it into The best way I could picture it was having all of your apps running through your browser, which to some extent wasn’t completely misguided. But it struck me as a way for software vendors to get more money out of you by charging a subscription fee rather than a one-off payment for a license. Perhaps there’s an element of that that’s true too.

But even once I understood what it was, I couldn’t really conceptualise how it would help me. What do I care in the end whether my software is hosted locally or on a remote server somewhere?

Today of course I could list all kinds of benefits. Reduced server costs, less dependence on backup routines, increased security – they are many and varied. But there’s nothing like experience to really drive it home, and at least one of the more significant advantages of the cloud hit hard for me recently.

A couple of weekends ago my car was broken into. Nothing too severe in terms of loss or damage – just a smashed window, a stolen wallet and a stressed wife. But it meant that on the Monday, I really needed to get that window replaced.

After sorting out the insurance I was ready to track down a replacement window, but it turned out there was only one available in Adelaide (from the approved suppliers anyway) and I had to take a bit of a drive to get there. So I threw my laptop in my bag and headed off, prepared to write-off the day to annual leave. After all, repairs of any kind to a car never go as planned. It turned out exactly as expected – what was meant to take an hour took around five.

After I dropped the car off I was stranded, so I went for a walk. Conveniently, some 50 metres or so down the road was one of Adelaide’s finest coffee shops (it’s The Coffee Barun, for my fellow coffee fanatics out there). I’d been meaning to check out their new premises for a while but it’s a little out of the way from where I live, so this was a good opportunity to visit and drown my sorrows in coffee. Turned out they had free Wi-Fi.

What started out as a day to be written off turned out to be one of my most productive in a long time! Away from the distractions and interruptions of the office, and with an endless supply of fine coffee, I was able to get so much done. In fact there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I checked our bank balance and debtors situation, and looked at how our billings were going for the month. I customised some reports. I sent and responded to a few emails and wrote a new blog article. Then I prepared our bi-monthly newsletter and sent off a draft for review. The fact that my car was taking five hours rather than the promised one was almost of no consequence. And I did it all with my headphones on listening to my playlist on random.

This may not be my only office of the future. But it’s at least part of the future. And most significantly of all, it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that it really hit me just how radical that day was. Ten years ago I could really only ever have dreamed of turning such a disaster of a day into something so productive. Ten years ago of course, my desktop computer was less powerful than my phone is today. You can’t really conceptualise the future until you’re in it. More than ever before, I’m finally starting to get it.

One of the best things about the cloud is that the office is never too far away. Oh wait…

Want to know what the best part of all is? I’m on holidays right now writing this post from Bali! Don’t worry – I get the whole work/life balance thing. The kids are by the pool with Mum and I’ve just ducked away for a few minutes. I’ve checked a couple of things and looked at a some reports. As a director of your own business, you can stretch the cord very thin, but you can never totally break it, if only because you worry about how things are going while you’re away. And that’s ok. After all, I’m hoping to do this a lot more as I get older so a healthy – and accessible – practice is a vital part of the plan.

So this is what they meant by the cloud! I’m a convert! Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s beer o’clock (somewhere in the world) and there’s a pool chair calling my name.

STOP PRESS: We’re changing the URL of the blog thanks to the legal boffins at Xero. It will be happening as soon as I’m back from holidays. Stay tuned for more information.