Of Roku Angry Birds and the Importance of the Cloud Blog Image resized 600

From Amazon to Microsoft, Google to IBM, most of the leading technology companies of our age recognize the future of data storage is on the cloud; the emergence of the Internet of Things (IOT) will only serves to underscore this new tech orthodoxy.

In fact, IBM’s recent acquisition of Cloudant is just the latest reminder that the cloud wars may not be too distant in our horizon. However, this post is not about such heady fare. Instead, I’d like to share a recent personal experience I had with Roku and Angry Birds which I believe argues for the necessity of the cloud for individuals as well as businesses.

A Simple Plan

It all started when I decided to finally switch out our aging living room TV for a newer model I had acquired over the holidays. It seemed like a pretty risk-free proposition - just unplug a few wires connecting the cable box, stereo, Roku, etc. from the old TV and plug them in all to the new one. Simple, right? Except that it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, as I went to re-connect our tackle to the new TV, I found a tangled mess of wiring splayed out on the floor; admittedly, I probably should’ve paid a bit more attention to where all of those wires were originally plugged in, but that would’ve made too much sense.

About an hour or so and countless expletives later, I finally had everything hooked up to the new TV. Yes, all systems were go, except one- the Roku. Amid the whirring and blinking of lights emitting from various gaming boxes and consoles sat the little disc-shaped Roku, black as night.

“Hmmm, that’s funny,” I thought to myself, “with no on/off button, the Roku always has a light on as long as it’s plugged in (sure enough, it was plugged in).” My mind began to process the implications of this simple fact. Somehow, someway, I must have killed the Roku.

I began to rationalize, as one often does in such circumstances. “No big deal, it’s only like $60 bucks new, right? I’ll just buy a new one- a better one.”

“Wait a minute, though,” I thought to myself, “it doesn’t make any sense that unplugging it would kill it. Perhaps I should consult with the experts.” I instinctively headed for my laptop. After poring through a few online forums with no success, I pulled up Roku’s homepage. Happily, a Live Chat option immediately popped into view (kudos to Roku for offering this function).

No Light, No Life

I went back and forth for a few minutes with a very helpful Roku agent attempting to troubleshoot, though in the back of my mind I knew it was an exercise in futility. After all, my 90-day hardware warranty had long since lapsed, and besides, in the world of digital, no light usually means no life.

After a few more polite exchanges to make me feel better, the Roku agent essentially told me I was SOL. Before I let her go, I asked one more very pointed question- the only question that had really been haunting me since I lost the light. “For the Roku Angry Birds app, is the data stored locally on the device or in the cloud?” I pressed enter and stared at the blinking cursor in morbid anticipation.

As I waited for her reply, I found myself unconsciously massaging the device like an OR surgeon trying to bring an expired heart-attack patient back to life. A few seconds later, the answer I had been dreading came. “Sorry, sir, the data is actually stored on the device.”

I was screwed.

For the Love of Learning

Perhaps a little back story is in order to put the full import of this development in its proper context. For the past year, my five-year old son and I have been playing Roku Angry Birds, happily unlocking new levels and amassing millions of points in the process (Before you condemn the activity as sheer frivolity and pass judgment on my fitness for parenthood, Angry Birds is actually heavily-laden with physics principles and practices. If you don’t believe me, click here.  In my humble opinion, it is a great way to introduce young kids to the principles of physical mechanics, trajectory and problem solving- all that good ol’ fashioned STEM stuff that is all the rage in schools today. But I digress…). Suffice it to say, I assumed that my boy would take the news of our Roku’s untimely demise badly.

Boy, was I right.

Paradise Lost

What I didn’t count on, however, was the negative reaction of my seven-year old son. Keep in mind, he had never even played Roku Angry Birds with us; he is more of a Minecraft sort of dude. Ascending the stairs to their shared bedroom, I found the lads happily beating on each other while donning their PJs. As I contemplated how to break the news, I opted for the direct approach. “Boys, the Roku is dead, and the Angry Birds data was stored on the device, not on the cloud.

I knew the reaction would be negative, but I was not prepared for the primordial keening wail that emitted from both of them, almost in chorus. As I stared at my seven-year-old balling, I considered his reaction not only extreme but also ironic, considering he never even played the *&%^ game with us. It may have been more of a reflection of his penchant for dramatic gestures, an offshoot of a depressive, artsy, proto-goth countenance more than anything else.

However, I did expect such a visceral reaction from my five-year old, the budding Technorati of the family; possessing a keen interest in math and science and firmly ensconced in all things D, if he had his druthers he’d be toting some type of internet-enabled mobile device around 24/7 (he’s been caught more than once with tablet in hand while taking care of business in the water closet).

Generation Z

Setting aside personal woes and family dynamics, the marketing technologist in me couldn’t help making what I think is an important observation:

The fact that my two boys actually understood exactly what I said when I referred to the data being stored locally vs cloud was not only startling, but telling. To me, it is suggestive of the degree to which this youngest generation is growing up with digital. It is often said that the Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the first generation to be really digitally native. I would challenge this orthodoxy. Consider that the majority of Millennials came of age in a pre-digital era- the internet didn’t really get going until the late 90’s, social media until the early 2000’s. As such, this next lot, Generation Z (those born after the year 2000), includes the first true digital natives.

My boys’ visceral reaction confirms this theory; it speaks volumes to the degree to which digital pervades the very fabric of their lives and forms their perspective at such a young age. Reflecting on my own upbringing in the 1980s, if the Pong game on my Atari 2600 crapped out, I would’ve just shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my baseball glove, and headed down the block for the nearest pick-up game. We live in a very different- and in many ways more complex- world today.

Thinking about cloud vs local data storage reminds me of a recent exchange I had with a colleague at the office. We all try to save our work on the cloud, although we don’t have an official policy in place to do so. I asked my colleague if I could borrow a nifty Power Point presentation he had put together for a speech he gave at a local university; he laughed and said it had been stored locally on his old laptop, which he had to trash after his hard drive crashed.

I could feel his pain.

Cloud Rules

What’s the moral of the story? The exponential nature of digital technological advancement continues to overturn existing paradigms. Not long ago, the perception was that data had to be stored on local devices to be truly considered safe; and not long before that, it had to be stored in paper files and locked away in cabinets. Offering high levels of encryption and redundant storage capacities, I would submit to you that in today’s world, the safest place to store data, for businesses and individuals alike, is on the cloud.

Just ask my sons.