Cloud illusions: Joni Mitchell weighs-in on web backups.

Confused about the risks/rewards of cloud computing? Squeamish about storing your data and apps on the internet—on remote servers and computers? You're not alone.

In fact Joni Mitchell expressed ambivalence about the cloud decades ago in her brilliant song "Both Sides Now" (video below). She noted the fairy-tale promises of web-based computing ("ice cream castles in the air") and yet she saw both sides of the issue and even questioned her initial love affair with it.

Sure, storing data & apps on the cloud assures unlimited storage, lower computer costs, universal document access, increased computer performance, improved data reliability, device independence, easier group collaboration—but there are still downsides.

Of course Joni couldn't go into detail in a three-and-a-half minute song, but she recognized that using the cloud requires a continuous internet connection, entails some loss of control, and runs the risk of proprietary data being stolen or lost. (That was her precise point in the now-famous line: "Something's lost but something's gained in living every day.")

In the end she was left contemplating "cloud illusions" and confessed—if I heard her words correctly—"I really don't know cloud computing at all."

That was completely understandable in 1967. But is it in 2010? Is it safe—and advisable—for you to move your business to the Internet?

Footnote to the above: in 1967 Joni offered "Both Sides Now" to my band (The Morning) to record when we were performing with her in Greenwich Village, but we didn't follow up on it and Judy Collins' version became a top-ten single in 1968. I hate it when that happens.

View the archive »

Never miss a post… get 'em by email or rss »


  1. I think an individual running a home-based business will answer your question differently than an IT professional in a large company, who has more to "lose" and "gain."

    Nice song, though you may have to clean out your ears and listen to it again.

  2. Good point, James (about the IT professional, not my ears). Of course you can interpret a song your way and I can interpret it my way. BTW, if you play “Both Sides Now” backwards you’ll also hear Joni’s views on decoupling smartphones from carriers. This woman dispenses wisdom on SO many subjects - wireless computing, love loss, cactus growing.

  3. John -

    However much Ms. Mitchell would want us to believe that "Both Sides Now" is related to Das Kloud, its actually just competitive peckishness on her part.

    Not too long before Joan Baez had sung "Sweet Sir Galahad," a metaphor for the pining that a systems manager tends to have for the IBM salesman assigned to the account.

    Mitchell was insanely jealous of this insightful and deeply moving tune and thus was driven to write her own torch song to IT.

    Its almost a disease....

  4. Thank you, Doug. I'm humbled by your hermeneutic skills. Drop by anytime to help us decode these difficult texts. Good luck on Step 2.

  5. You know you left out some other cloud-hosting benefits, like reduced software costs, instant updates, and freeing up IT resources.

    I suppose you heard "Paul is dead" when you played Beatles records backwards?

  6. Unfortunately I heard "Paul is dead" when I played the last Beatles album forward (Abbey Road). But fortunately he revived himself subsequently.

  7. The control and data loss issue had been recognised several years earlier, John, by the band who possibly invented cloud computing: The Rolling Stones. You might remember their exhortation:

    I said, "Hey, you, get off of my cloud
    Hey, you, get off of my cloud
    Hey, you, get off of my cloud
    Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
    On my cloud baby"

  8. The legendary Stormin Norman Zamcheck (former Polydor recording artist) just sent me a note from the road: "This is one of the most unique explications of a song lyric that I have ever read." (I get most of my comments via email.) Ever the euphemist, Norm was of course trying to tell me I've lost whatever tenuous grasp of reality I once had. But I appreciate the feedback.

  9. Well, I'm a very trusting individual and don't have any problems with clouds. In fact, I enjoy floating around and don't mind leaving bits of data everywhere. It's not a security issue for me. I have nothing to hide on my cloud.

  10. John - your pal Stormin' Norman is way off beam. Quote him another Joni song, "Twisted":

    My analyst told me
    That I was right out of my head
    He said I'd need treatment
    But I'm not that easily led
    He said I was the type
    That was most inclined
    When out of his sight
    To be out of my mind
    And he thought I was nuts
    No more ifs or ands or buts

  11. "Twisted" also includes the lines...
    "I knew I was a genius.
    What's so strange when you know
    That you're a wizard at three.
    I knew that this was meant to be."
    Clearly this precocious songstress was running algorithms that only Sergey Brin and Larry Page could later understand.

  12. call me a control freak but there's no way i'm putting my sensitive data on remote servers where it can disappear like vapor. it's stupid to avoid all cloud computing of course -- google, email, etc. -- but we can limit the risks.

  13. Control Freak: I understand completely. If Google's cloud is getting hacked by China, what's safe?
    There's a debate going on about that:

    Thanks for reminding me that this blog's treasure trove of literary and business wisdom - including the opinings of so many erudite commentators like yourself - could be lost forever, intellectually and spiritually impoverishing future generations.

  14. well i don't know (or care) who hacked google, but there are just too many uncertainties with remote storage. you can't rule out technical flaws, malicious tampering, or corporate mergers which can complicate existing agreements. count me out.

  15. Well, we can be sure it was China who hacked into Google because who else is interested in information on Tibetan activists? Portugal? As a supporter of Tibetan autonomy - if not Tibetan independence - and as an admirer of Tibetan Buddhism, I actually DO care about China's ongoing cultural genocide in Tibet. Their claims about the Dalai Lama are beyond hysterical. That's like attacking Bambi. (Oops, I guess I'll never get back into China now.)

    But, yes, your concerns about "uncertainties" re the cloud make sense to me. Of course I'm a technomoron whose technical expertise can be challenged by an electric toothbrush. But I have sagacious commentators like you - and Ms. Mitchell - to set me straight.

  16. Hi there everyone! computing = time-sharing of the late seventies and early eighties. This is just an upgraded version of what we knew as "time-sharing"...several companies sharing one computer system. We had this when I worked at Capitol Light & Supply in Hartford, Conn. in 1977-1979. The main computer was located somewhere in Pennsylvania, if I remember right.
    My feeling is, every business should have its' own in-house system now, not floating their data all over the 'net for the Russian kid-hackers to grab.....heh.


  17. I think we can't look at this subject in isolation. Our understanding of proprietary rights, who should have what information and at what time are being challenged on all fronts. Integration of "everything" is a continuing theme by the previously mentioned business gurus Mick and Keith : " Speck of white so faire and pale/ Have you seen the lady fairer / She comes in colors everywhere / She combs hes hair / She's like a rainbow / Coming colors in the air / Oh, everywhere!"

  18. Nick - I hear ya. Most of my data is on the Apple cloud at the moment but I also back it up on earth. And I keep all my documents in English to protect me against Russian hackers.

    Anonymous - My crack legal team is currently wrestling with these very issues of proprietary ownership. Personally, I believe EVERYTHING should be free (except for what I create).

  19. At PaulH offered me a comment re this post...

    "The cloud debate is fascinating. Although the debate around security and price is valid I do wonder what happens if a cloud vendor goes bust? your company's core IT infrastructure could literally disappear overnight! Although you may have contractural clauses etc etc it could take weeks to regain access and control of your data. Even if you do get control do you have the internal knowledge of their systems to know how it's organised?

    Another area is mergers and acquisitions - having seen first hand how hard it is to merge data from one company into another internally,(one of the hardest projects in IT) the thought of doing that with two third parties controlling the systems (where presumably one of the third parties is losing the business) frankly scares me. This is going to get very interesting!

    I think there is a lot of heads in the cloud talk around this but very little feet on the ground discussion of real world scenarios. This is an area where you need a cynical, grouchy techy on your team giving you all the reasons why something won't work."

  20. Short answer John - I just don't know about cloud computing!!

    I guess I'm still just a trusting soul with rose tinted spectacles.

    Life has kicked me around the block a few times by following that philosophy.

    And yet I still am naive enough to believe that humans want to see development for positive reasons rather than negative ones.

    Throughout history bad people have tampered with good developments to try and undermine progress.

    I remain a realistic idealist

    Maybe I'm still a bit naive my friend? :-)

  21. Trevor, as Friedrich von Scheller said, “Every true genius is bound to be naive.”

    On another note, someone objected to my calling Abbey Road the Beatles last album, because Let It Be was released later. But in fact Abbey Road was recorded later, and represents their last recording project.

  22. Cheers John - Genius I am most definitely not ... but thanks for the Friedrich von Scheller quote anyway.

    I'm sure you are right about Abbey Raid ....One thing I have learned since knowing you Sir is not to argue with you about The Beatles!

    Cheers my friend

  23. Trevor, my spiritual pilgrimages to Liverpool have given me much insight into the sacred songs of these four sages. I suppose rock & roll got its start in St. Louis, Macon, and Memphis (from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis respectively), but it was resurrected and immortalized along the banks of the Mersey. As a Brit, that's something you can be especially proud of. Speaking of which, have you ever walked the hallowed grounds of Mathew Street?

  24. "Speaking of which, have you ever walked the hallowed grounds of Mathew Street?"

    Afraid not John - I've visited Liverpool only 3 times in my life which maybe less than you Sir!

    I loved the Beatles - I loved the whole 60's Liverpool domination of the world of rock music and I am very proud of how Britain led the world at that time in music. But the City of Liverpool itself never held any sort of aura for me.

    Now Manchester is a completely different story ... the greatest City in the world...

  25. I don't know much about Manchester but I have to respect the home of Oasis, Morrissey, Wayne Fontana, and...the Hollies — 2010 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (I've got "Look Through Any Window" on my iPod and I play it to death.) But the next time you visit Merseyside check out the Cavern Club on Mathew Street and, even more importantly, the Casbah Club in West Derby, where the Fab 4 got their start, in the basement of Pete Best's home.

  26. Hi John – Manchester is the home of the greatest football team (soccer) in the world- Manchester United … that’s my main link. Funny isn’t it how we relate to a city based on something like a soccer team or a band?

    Whenever I visit Manchester I get a warm feeling and just love to look around the city absorbing the culture and the history.

    I’m sure is the same of folks who love Liverpool.

    I hope to visit The Cavern one day.

  27. Geez, Trevor. I didn't know you liked football - or Manchester United. Amazing how you've kept that secret for so long. You should talk that up more on your blog. In the UK I've only spent time in Liverpool and London - two cities I adore, for different reasons.

    Re cloud computing, you and every other blogger I know is already using it daily. Every post on is stored on Google's remote servers - i.e. "the cloud." But you now have the opportunity to back up your files on the cloud (internet) in addition to a hard drive sitting next to you (for added protection against burglary, fire, etc.) Yet the security of storing your data in some remote location in the cyber clouds has suddenly become a hot debate - as that techno-seer Joni Mitchell envisaged 43 years ago.

  28. John - you must be the only person in the world who doens't know I am obsessed with Manchester United ... Or maybe you are just winding me up Sir :-)

    I will watch the 'cloud' debate and try and learn what the implications are for the individual.

    I guess its down to whether we trust the motives of the 'owners' of the information at the end of the day..

  29. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to exploring your web page again.

  30. Stumble away, Baltimore. We welcome spammers, scammers, flim-flammers, and a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-bammers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View the archive »

Never miss a post… get 'em by email or rss »