Clouds: The Most Useful Metaphor of All Time? The Atlantic

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Te plays, poems, songs, and novels, clouds stand ter for everything from bad philosophy to the many incarnations of a soul

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            • Ter plays, poems, songs, and novels, clouds stand ter for everything from bad philosophy to the many incarnations of a soul

              Ah, the cloud. It sounds dreamlike, ethereal. But of course, when wij talk about “the cloud,” wij are not talking about mist-like gegevens dangling out te the ether, but massive rekentuig servers, powered by generators, cooled by air conditioners, and stored te warehouses. More mechanical than magical.

              Despite this gap inbetween imagery and actuality, “the cloud” has succeeded te becoming the agreed-upon shorthand for modern gegevens storage. Where did this name come from? And why has it stuck?

              Spil far spil it relates to computers, the term “cloud” dates back to early network vormgeving, when engineers would opbergmap out all the various components of their networks, but then loosely sketch the unknown networks (like the Internet) theirs wasgoed hooked into. What does a rough blob of undefined knots look like? A cloud. And, helpfully, clouds are something that take little skill to draw. It’s a squiggly line formed into a rough ellipse. Overheen time, clouds were adopted spil the stand-in photo for the part of a laptop or telephone network outside one’s own.

              Overheen the last decade, the term “the cloud” has moved from its provenance among rekentuig engineers to common usage, via the vectors of Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2), very first released te 2006, and Apple’s iCloud, announced earlier this year. Clearly, the marketing brains behind thesis operations realized that the term cloud wasgoed a far more lovely, far more consumer-friendly term than, say, remote gegevens storage. The engineering term ‘the cloud’ now has widespread resonance ter society.

              What is it about clouds that has such sticking power? Clouds get traction spil a metaphor because they are shape-shifters, literally. Spil a result they can stand ter for many varied cultural tropes. Want something to represent the one thing marring your otherwise ideal situation? Done. Want to evoke the nostalgic feeling of childhood games of the imagination? Done. Maybe you want to draw a picture of heaven? You’re ter luck. Clouds spil metaphors pepper our language: every cloud has a silver lining, I’m on cloud nine, his head is te the clouds, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Clouds are the lazy man’s metaphor, a one-image-fits-all solution for your metaphor needs.

              Because of this plasticity, they commonly show up te our books and music. Perhaps the earliest example is te Aristophanes’s play, The Clouds, te which clouds are the play’s chorus and playwright’s voice, but also symbolize the fancy philosophical fluff that Aristophanes wasgoed skewering. Ter a 14th-century mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing, Maker is surrounded by a darkness, or a “cloud of unknowing” that can only be accessed through feeling and love, not through skill. Te 1802 William Wordsworth invoked a lonely cloud to represent his solitude, writing, “I wandered lonely spil a cloud/That floats on high o’er vales and hills/When all at once I witnessed a crowd,/A host of golden daffodils,/Beside the lake, underneath the trees,/Fluttering and dancing te the breeze.” Philosophical fluff, the unknowability of Heer, loneliness — is there anything a pack of moisture droplets can’t represent?

              Now, I am a Joni Mitchell fan, but hier use of the cloud metaphor takes the cloud thing too far, to sappiness and beyond. Te hier 1969 song “Both Sides Now,” she sings:

              Bows and flows of weerhaak hair

              And ice juice castles ter the air

              And feather canyons everywhere

              I’ve looked at clouds that way.

              But now they only block the zon

              They rain and snow on everyone

              So many things I would have done

              But clouds got te my way.

              Obviously, you can see where this is going: clouds spil a metaphor for a love turned cold. But if you can overlook the saccharine quality of Mitchell’s lyrics, you can see ter hier cloud metaphor the reason why cloud metaphors are everywhere: because clouds switch. Unlike other celestial metaphors — the zon, moon, starlets — clouds have varying qualities depending on the day, and their range of appearances make them useful metaphors for a range of qualities. Moreover, a shift ter cloud voorkant — from a blue spotted sky to an overcast afternoon — can switch the entire mood of a day. Because wij associate certain weather patterns with certain moods, clouds ter writing can be used to evoke a predictable and strong emotional response. They are a writer’s goldmine: a metaphor that is supple and yet still powerful.

              One of my beloved authors, David Mitchell (no relationship to Joni Mitchell, spil far spil I know), has mined the cloud metaphor to represent the journey of a soul, traveling across ages and taking on fresh forms. Te his 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s character ter the far-distant post-apocalyptic future says, “Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s form strafgevangenis hue strafgevangenis size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow?” Clouds can stand for different incarnations of a soul, and they can stand for the quality of switch itself.

              Whatever form clouds take, literally or metaphorically, wij can find meaning te them and project meaning onto them. At this level, they are a more flawless pic for remote gegevens storage than anyone could have anticipated. Much like the billions upon billions of kattig of information wij store, clouds can have whatever meaning wij give them, whatever meaning wij see ter them.

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