Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Some time back, I posted about my disdain for the term “The Cloud” when discussing distributed or offsite computing. There, discussing the term “in the Cloud”, I said:

This phenomenon itself isn’t noteworthy from a linguistic standpoint (”Web 2.0” seems to have been the same sort of trendy buzzword at some point), but it occurred to me today that for many less-tech-saavy users, this “in the cloud” phrasing might actually be affecting how people view these services, and I think that might be why companies have latched onto this term so strongly.

Well, I just got some delightful confirmation in the form of this study (found via Slashdot), offers the following not-as-shocking-as-they-should-be results:

A new national survey by Wakefield Research, commissioned by Citrix, showed that most respondents believe the cloud is related to weather, while some referred to pillows, drugs and toilet paper.

In addition to the revelation that The Cloud is affected by weather patterns, the study’s press release also tells us that 25% of respondents thought that the cloud was useful for “keeping embarrassing videos off of their personal hard drive”, which I doubt most people would do if they fully understood what The Cloud is.

All head-shaking aside, this is further proof that the language used to describe a concept is critical in people’s understanding of it, and a bad metaphor (like this one) can seriously and negatively affect people’s comprehension of the concepts at play. Remember, ladies and gentlemen, “in the cloud” is just a fancy way of saying “on somebody else’s computer”, and if you put anything “in the cloud” that you wouldn’t want on somebody else’s computer, well, there’s a storm brewing. Better grab an umbrella.

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