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An Open Letter to Apple, Inc.

Friday, January 10, 2020

I have a piece of white tape on my sleek six-month-old MacBook Pro. On it is the toll free number for Apple Care. I'm on a first-name basis with lots of technicians there: Magic Mike, Tiffani, and most recently Bobby from Tennessee. His soft southern accent sets me at ease. They're all great. No complaints. Apple Care isn't cheap, but it's truly fabulous. You get real people, real quick, and you're  probably calling Tennessee, not Bangladesh. Wait times are short; you get a choice of pop, jazz or classical music to listen to; and these people can really solve your problems, and they'll hang with you until they do.

Libby the mourning dove loved to sit on the screen top while I wrote about her. Note large external hard drive in the background. This is an example of foreshadowing. 

And I love the machines, and can't imagine life without them. So if you're hoping to see me send Apple through the cider press, bashing their products to juice, that's not going to happen. As always, I am trying to help here.

However. I  have an observation on Macintosh corporate culture that I was moved to air in a lousy sort of prose poem, composed in the wee hours after spending six months grappling with a problem that never should have happened to me. I believe it's due to a very simple, fixable oversight on Mac's part, and an assumption they're making about their customers that ain't necessarily so. Here we go:

The Cloud! How aptly named!
Solid construct, or phantasm?
I can tell you this.
When you go buy a new computer, and the Genius in attendance
Is 1/3 your age, and has never lived in back of beyond
Stop there! and look around
for an eminence grise
Who remembers what it was to dance without a Net.
Do not buy your goods from the young Genius!

With me watching, and not understanding what that meant,
The Genius clicked a box under Settings/Storage.
It said, "Optimize Storage." Sounded good to me!
I'm all for optimization!
Box clicked, I forgot about it, but it would bedevil me
and occasionally stop me cold
From July until January.

When hard drive space gets small
As it often does for someone who takes photos
Of every little thing I love or wonder about
This little checkbox does a thing.
It sends all my files up to the Cloud.
Which is fine in theory, for those with unlimited bandwidth
In Tokyo, Toronto, Columbus or New York.
It is Hell in practice, for those of us who live among the trees
And to use the Net, must catch and buy a satellite's beam.

Up and away went my photos, the Keynote slideshows I spent months on
Leaving nothing in their place.
Up and away went my bandwidth, too.
Click on a photo, just try it! Open a file if you can!
Not so fast, loser!
It must be downloaded from the Cloud before you can view it
Or attach it
Or put it in a slideshow.
Or do anything at all.
The spinning beachball of death appears on your screen.
You sit in despair. Nothing that was yours is yours any more.
The next morning, there might appear on your desktop
The photo you needed, last night at 7. Look! It opened! Hooray!
And it only took all night. Isn't that neat?

Show up to give your lecture. Try to open your Keynote presentation.
You built it lovingly, four months in the making. You built it on your laptop.
It's right here, in Keynote.  Click, and click again.
Nothing happens. But don't panic! Don't worry! Your program is saved, up there on The Cloud!
Shall we all grow wings and fly up to watch it there? Without fast WiFi, you can't get it back.
I live and work in lots of places without WiFi.
Sometimes I give talks in tents, with haybales for seating.
Imagine, if you can, young Genius, not having WiFi wherever you go.
I'm telling you, it happens. Maybe not in your world, but in mine.

I stare at the dialog box. You do not have permission to complete this operation.
Wait! Who took it from me? Help me understand, O Genius,
Why I'd want to save my work
To a place where I can never get it back?
With 200 people murmuring in an auditorium
Wondering what's going on with this evening's speaker.

Six months of hell and bewilderment, and now I must re-set, reclaim, and download
All that once was mine. All my files, snatched away
When Genius clicked a checkmark
In a little box that read, "Documents and Desktop"
to be saved to The Cloud. Let's Optimize Storage for you, too. Click!
I had no clue what that meant. Now I know.
That was July. This is January.

Train your Geniuses, for I have suffered. Tell them this simple thing:
Not everyone who buys a Mac lives in Tokyo or Toronto,
Columbus or New York.
Some of us eke out a living
On a rugged frontier
Where bandwidth is metered out by the meanest of Scrooges.
A hundred bucks gets you 15 gigs, and it has to last you all month.

Imagine! Or at least try! I know it's hard...
You could use that in a day bingeing Breaking Bad
And never stop to think what it means, or what it costs
To Optimize Storage way out here in the boondocks.
Or how it feels to have your work disappear
Locked in a misty cloud somewhere high above.
I'm not playing games on this laptop.
 This is my living you've messed with.

Hear this! The Cloud is not my friend. It is a cruel overlord
Who takes my work and won't give it back.
Give me hard drives by the armful! I shall label them with tape
Tiny writing telling all that's inside.
When I need to, I will plug them in
And my work will open before me.
I'll take my chances and back them up twice.
They're here with me, and real.

This is my only option, living where I do
With Hughes Net the only provider
Charging a king's ransom
For almost nothing.
We don't stream; we don't listen to podcasts
We have no favorite Internet shows
Netflix is unknown to us. Imagine!
We could be Amish!

I won't forget the young man in his black tee who,
with a cruel glint in his eye
Stood in Columbus' clean white Apple store
Watching me deliberate over which hard drive to buy.
"In four years, there won't be any such thing as an external hard drive.
It'll all be backed up on The Cloud."
He smirked at me, enjoying the look of panic and dismay on my face
Knowing not what he was saying
Or caring, to whom.

That was eight years ago, and I eschew his store
To buy my hard drives online. They're half the price now,
 with five times the storage
And, last I checked, they still exist.
The Genius was wrong, but worse, he was mean.

Know this: Those of us who live with bad Internet
Might not be backward or dumb.
We have chosen trees over people for neighbors.
They are never annoying
Until they fall on your roof.
You suck down bandwidth like a supersized latte.
Out here in the middle, we have a demitasse cup
And a tiny coffee stirrer through which we slowly sip
What little Net we get. We make do.
We like our external hard drives,
and yes, they still exist.
The Cloud is another matter.

Here's my message to Apple:
Before you set us up, I pray, please ask us:
Where we live, what we pay, and what we get for that.
15 gigs per month? 24 kilobytes per second?
Stop, Genius!!  Don't check that little box
That backs it all up to a Cloud
That won't give it back.

It's simple enough.
Come, Genius.
Let me explain this to you.
I have suffered for your ignorance.


As a fellow satellite sufferer a feel your pain. Seven back up drives.

Thank goodness I don’t have your needs with my measly 10 gigs. My biggest problem is that I cannot transfer photos to my iPad without the cloud and they want $10 a month because I have so many photos. No one told me that before I bought. And who even knows what to ask when shopping? They keep promising alternative WiFi here but I am not holding my breath. Keep those Netflix discs coming.

What a bummer in every way. I hope there's a way for you to finally get access to all of your stuff. Yikes.

So I might need some technical advice. I have a back-up hard drive that I use, but some things still go to the Cloud with the described downloading difficulties. How do I get everything OFF the Cloud for good, backed up and available? (By the way, we are not Cloud-lovers, having heard an expert remind us that "The Cloud" is simply another name for someone else's computer.)

Amen! Beautifully stated! We are in the same predicament, but while slow/no connectivity can be mindbendingly frustrating, I wouldn’t trade where we live for anything! Bring on the external hard drives!
I do think that in this day and age EVERYONE should have access to high-speed internet.

oh dear. Personally I don't use the Cloud at all. Every increase in what you put in there will result in additional charges, too. I don't use it. Apple makes it very easy to store everything on an external drive using "Time Machine". I use multiple drives, for security. I would NEVER EVER trust Apple or any other Cloud for what I care about. Your work is so precious.

Posted by Emily Sieger January 10, 2020 at 8:38 AM

@Michelle, Well, not knowing if you have a Mac or not, it's hard to advise. If you DO, and you have AppleCare, you should simply call 1 800 275-2273 and ask exactly that. 

You have to be in a place with fabulous fast WiFi, and be on it, before you do anything.
You also have to back everything up before you do anything.
Then, you make sure you have sufficient room on your computer hard drive to take all the stuff you want back. (I did NOT, and had to spend a day getting photos off and put on externals).
Then, and only then, do you uncheck Optimize Storage under Settings/Storage, and THEN what happens is all that stuff starts downloading back to your computer's hard drive. It took six hours for 83 gigs of Cloud-stolen stuff to come back. It was worth every minute.
I needed to be walked through it because I found it extremely stressful.
I also had to be handed up to a senior manager in Creative because the initial technician I spoke with had no idea what to do with me.
Most people don't keep photo libraries of 143 gigs on their hard drives. Well, I do. I'm a blogger and a writer and I take a lot of photos.
So I had to dump that library before grabbing my stuff back out of the cloud.

In my case, I did not uncheck "Desktop and Documents" backing up to iCloud; I simply unchecked "Optimize Storage."

Now, the onus is on me to make sure I keep sufficient room on my hard drive so that this cloud suck-up of my work doesn't happen again.

Ermagerd. This may be the best epic poem since the Iliad. Not quite as many slaughtered Greek and Trojan warriors, but plenty of pain nonetheless. Good luck with Apple.

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Perhaps it would be a good idea to keep an extra hard drive in your office closet, apart from any other hard drives you may be using. If you suddenly need more storage space, you don't want to have to take time out to buy one when you actually need it. Even though I'm a minimalist, if I consider an appliance vital, I keep an extra one in my attic.

Posted by mimimanderly January 10, 2020 at 5:26 PM

I have decent Wifi where I live and still found direct storage on the cloud a PITA. I cant tell you how many times I've closed a document then immediately remembered something I needed to fix and couldn't open it again until all the cloudy stuff got done. Backups, sure! Great to have access from someone else's computer or my phone or... But I still want my documents on my computer(s) so I can edit them at home, on a plane, during a power failure, or anywhere I don't have a connection to the cloud. I bought a new 4TB hard drive last week and it's the size of a deck of cards!!

Ohmygosh. As someone who lives in a rural community where the power goes out multiple times a year (sometimes for no explicable reason), I understand completely. I work out of my home and must be able to access my files wherever I am. I use an external hard drive AND The Cloud for backup storage just in case, but I keep my files on my computer. If The Cloud is the future, those of us who live outside of large cities are doomed.

Hi Julie, I love reading your Blog posts, I'm new to them.
I also have a an engineering degree, easy fix increase your hard drive capacity on your Macbook, maybe 10 times what you have. I avoid the clod as much as possible.

Oh, man.....does this resonate!!!!!! Thank you for sharing my daily life also! Satellite internet takes a patient soul!

Posted by February 2, 2020 at 4:16 AM

Satellite internet does have it's trials and tribulations or as a high school teacher once shared it's "idiot" syncrasies!

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