The awareness of Digital Ecology phenomenon has only just started growing and so it doesn’t have a clear-cut definition.
For Radicalzz, Digital Ecology means responsibility, conscious and sustainable use of technology.
How can one use technology sustainable?
By the means of criticism of its unrelenting progress and growth and by pushing its desire to functions that serve the environment and us - humans.
Our approach to the problem is holistic – starting from the moment of mining for cobalt, which is inside all lithium batteries, and ending with the way the digital world, which we have created disregarding all rules, impacts the world around us.
Your online presence has a direct impact on your devices’ functionalities and therefore also on the environment.
You need to be aware of the fact that every byte, transferred or stored, requires large-scale and energy-greedy terminals and infrastructure (data centers, networks).
Data traffic is responsible for more than a half of digital technology’s global impact, amounting to 55% of its annual energy consumption •
The best way to explain this phenomenon will be to present it by telling a story.
Meet Mia: she lives in Europe and as she is tired of the everyday grind she decides to break out for longer and go on a holiday. It all starts from an idea – Mia is on the lookout for the ideal destination and flight deals •
Mia boots her computer (simply running a PC generates between 40 and 80 grams of CO2 per hour) and opens Google – the first source of information.
The very term “Google it” became a staple in our everyday language and that means it has become part of culture and current norms. We are not at odds with this, we accepted the fact without much criticism – consequently, that led to us having allowed ourselves to learn a habit that is identified with a technological product.
Mia begins the search process by finding her dream destination so in her web-browsers she types in “the top holiday spots”, “holiday in solitude”, “top instagrammable places”.
Each instance of searching in Google generates 7 grams of carbon dioxide. It might seem nothing but in the processing of 3.5 billion searches a day, the world’s most popular website account for approximately 40% of the Internet’s carbon footprint.
And what is the carbon footprint of the Internet? According to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, the Internet is responsible for roughly one billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, or around 2% of global emissions. That’s the same as all worldwide aviation’s footprint •
Mia’s every online step has been tracked.
The traces she left behind will initially allow machines and advanced algorithms to better understand underand her behaviour, needs and desires, and on this basis predict her behaviour and target marketing communication.
All this info is stored on servers that consume gigantic amounts of energy.
It's estimated that 1.7 megabytes of data is created every second for every person on Earth. And that is still raising! •
Every website visited by Mia is stored on the servers and so it is necessary to use energy to host them there.
According to the HTTP Archive, almost 16% of websites today – in other words, about 1 out of 6 – are 4 megabytes or more in size and there are over 6.23 billion websites on World Wide Web today.
Therefore, the approximate total size exceeds 25 petabytes. How much exactly? Nobody knows.
To understand the magnitude: 10 trillion photos on Facebook amount to about 1.5 petabytes. As a result, the total weight of all available websites is grated than 166 trillion pics shared on Facebook. The number of zeroes is frightening!
From the USA’s perspective: saving and storing 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud per year would result in a carbon footprint of about 0.2 tonnes of CO2, based on the usual American electricity sources, so 25 petabytes generates 5 million tonnes of CO2 •
Mia has finally found her dream holiday destination – Maldives. The total amount of CO2 produced by this country in 2017 amounted to 900,000 million tonnes – the same as 3 billion Facebook users’ activity. According to a City Angel report, the average Facebook user generates 299 grams of CO2 on a yearly basis.
What is more, Mia, in the process of registering on the airline’s website, has blindly signed up to all marketing checkbox and that meant signing up to three newsletters.
In a single hour, more than twelve billion emails are sent, equating to more than 4,000 tonnes of oil. Spam messages accounted for 54.68% of e-mail traffic in 2019. An average open rate for email campaigns in 2019 was 13,94% - that means that the remaining are basically waste stored in our mailboxes.
It is estimated that a typical email is responsible for 4 grams of CO2 emission. If it has got a picture attached, it needs extra storage and takes longer to transmit, so the carbon footprint skyrockets to an average of 50 grams, which is almost the same carbon footprint of producing a standard plastic bag (40 grams).
Just three days left till departure, the excitement is in the air.
Mia decides to watch a YouTube video in HD: the Maldives from a bird’s eye view. Video is a dense medium of information: 10 hours of high definition video weight more than all Wikipedia text articles in English.
In 2018, watching online videos generated more than 300 million tonnes of CO2 - that is as much greenhouse gas as Spain’s emissions •
Mia’s departure day.
Mia cannot begin her adventure without notifying her friends, who stayed locked to their desks in their offices, about being on the way to the airport and to the warmer and better world.
She records a boomerang video and uploads it to Insta Stories, and to show everyone her boarding pass she publishes a post with a few hashtags and a catchy description. The likes keep on coming, so does the CO2 emission.
Mia has arrived at her destination. Along the way she managed to take a few beautiful photos of the clouds in front of the airplane’s engine, which on her roundtrip from Warsaw to Male generated 2,169 kilograms of CO2. She decides to share the photos with her friends via Insta Stories adding some extra grams to her total emission.
Throughout her stay Mia uploaded 10 photos on Instagram.
According to Selfie Index Developed by CORE - Economics for Changing World, the CO2 emissions of 10 selfies can be compared to 1 km travelled by an average EU car.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but if we take into account 971 photos being uploaded to Instagram every second, or in just 86,400 seconds (in 24 hours) it is 83,894,400 photos that in total equal to 8,389,440 km. It is as if we drove a car around the Earth 209 times a day •
That’s the reality of the bubble in which Mia operates.
Mia isn’t a bad person. She is unaware because she has been sold a promise of lifestyle created and cunningly designed by marketers working in large corporations taking advantage of basic human desires and motivations.
In all this Mia forgot that she is the one who makes decisions and can stop accepting it all.
Mia may feel that she is unable to do anything herself, but she forgot that strength is rooted iN us – the people •
The overly rapid technological progress, which is staged around those who are sly, create an increase in inequalities that give birth to anxiety and turn us against each other.
What’s more, in the world of new technologies there is no regulation – ethical problems are considered only when it is already too late and when first gross violations occur.
Technological products are built on the basis of our basic needs, such as group identity and recognition. We blindly rely on algorithms that were created solely to steal either our time or our money.
Comments under the shared selfie drive our need for appreciation and recognition of self-esteem, which in the physical world needs to be worked out by bringing to awareness our potentials, but it has been destroyed in many of us in the process of education, that unified our individuality.
On the other hand, the Internet is flooded by the influencers, who create a culture of consumption to which we desire to belong.
We lose relationships with our loved ones, we don’t talk to each other, but instead it is easier for us to send emojis •
Mia gets back home.
During her trip to warmer countries her battery overheated a few times and seriously degraded.
What about it? She takes it to a local authorised service and gets the batteries replaced.
Only 20% of the electronic waste gets recycled. The rest becomes e-waste that ends up in India, Asia or Africa.
Despite the battery replacement and new software updates, Mia’s phone starts freezing more often. A new iPhone model has just been released to the market: it comes with a larger screen, more cameras and even faster Internet connection. It is impossible to resist it.
Upon purchasing the new phone, it became apparent that a new pair of headphones are also necessary as the one she had been using previously has got an old type of input and is a little run-down.
What does Mia do with the old phone?
In a best-case scenario, she sells it, and in the worst, she stores it in a drawer, until a few years pass before she starts considering it as e-waste and throws it away in a dedicated point to a recycling container.
What happens to her phone next?
To bypass any kind of legal challenges, it is labelled as “second-hand technology”, so it lands in developing countries. There it is then disassembled: the plastic goes to landfill, PCBs (with valuable minerals such as copper, gold, and silver) are burned or melted in acid under dangerous conditions.
Children are involved in the whole process. Below you will find photos from one field study, which I have conducted in one of the larger electro-waste landfills in India •
Would you like to change that?
Check the tool subpage and find out how you can redefine your relationship with technology and reduce its negative impact on the environment.
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