Alexander C. Kaufman Business Editor
It's easy to understand the environmental cost of sending a letter. A tree is cut down to create the paper. A jet-fueled plane flies the envelope across the country. A postal service truck coughs out exhaust as the mail finally arrives at its destination.
Email, not so much.
"Most people literally just don't think there's an environmental cost," social media researcher Danah Boyd told The Huffington Post's Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. "All they can think about is the silicon that goes into your device or, maybe, the lithium that goes into your battery."
But the so-called "cloud" -- the networks of Internet servers on which many of us now store documents, contacts, photos and all sorts of digital correspondence -- is very tangible, as is its voracious appetite for electricity.
"If you think about it, why are you keeping around every notification you've ever got on Twitter on a live server so that it can be fed by water, power and land?" said Boyd. "A lot of it is [that] we've removed the economic cost -- it's free! -- but it has impact just like drinking bottled water has impact."
It's difficult to get people to care about something so invisible. You just expect email to exist when you need it, whether you're firing off a quick "thanks" to a colleague or searching for an old receipt for an online purchase. You might pay as much heed to this invisible network as, say, to the carbon emissions that come from buildings. Think of it this way: It's easy to note the exhaust coming out of a diesel truck, but who thinks about the impact of the four walls around them?
For that reason, Boyd suggests branding apps and tech services with the same sort of certification that the U.S. Green Building Council provides to eco-friendly structures.
"If Tim Cook decides that every app that goes through his App Store has to have the equivalent of LEED-certified code review, developers will do it," Boyd said of Apple's chief executive. "At the same time, if users start to demand it, developers will start to come around that way."
Some companies have stepped up. Apple includes its facilities in its annual environmental responsibility report. Google maintains a page dedicated to the energy efficiency of its data centers. Facebook has posted video tours of one of its data centers, touting its energy efficiency since as far back as 2011.
But Amazon, arguably the biggest player in cloud-hosting services, has a notably poor environmental record. Perhaps if the tech giant had a LEED certification to aspire to, it'd hasten its pace of change.
Smoke from a Chevron Oil refinery fire in 2012 fills the sky above Richmond, California.
It's all true. Not only is cloud storage not nearly so infallible and secure as people imagine. It's also a pretty big waste of "space" & energy. Do people really image that their every Twitter, photo, e-mail and all the rest of the bloated mass of data that they keep is of any real use or importance?
It isn't. 99% of it could be deleted with no loss to anyone. But people have this strange tendency to absorb every little technological trinket that comes along, and join the herd in its glassy-eyed chant that it's-so-great-I have-to-have-one-and-Oh!-I-can't-live-without-it. And then every fatuous account of Fluffy dismembering a ball of paper on the carpet (and then puking up the bits) has to be Twittered, e-mailed, videoed, and uploaded to You Tube and Facebook. And all of this garbage has to be saved.
I have a computer. One computer. It's a five year old, almost-bottom-of-the-line HP desktop PC. It does everything I need it to, and a lot more. I don't have a Kindle, a tablet, or a notebook. I have one phone. It's a ten dollar corded phone. It's connected to a cheap Radio Shack answering machine. I not only receive and return calls more efficiently than most of my friends with cell-phones, but I can also get calls when the power is out. It has never generated a battery for a land-fill. The signal it produces doesn't break up. It costs me about $17.00 a month, and best of all, I can still use my brain to store the phone numbers I regularly call. Most of the cell-phone users I know have lost that ability.
I get that for a busy, active person, a cell phone can be very useful. But to imagine that you can't live without one is absurd. To allow yourself to become so dependent on a block of silicone, glass and plastic that you freeze and start to emit sparks of terror from the top of your head when you can't find it, (or if it is stolen or breaks) is to admit that you have a much more powerful squishy pink processor between your ears that you have lost the use of.
Get a grip, people!
|You weren't born with it.|
And you can't take it with you when you die.