[-empyre-] Wired sustainability and Ambient Media

John Hopkins jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net
Fri Apr 18 17:29:12 EST 2008

>>If the global techno-social system is sustainable, then we would 
>>see that already.  If it is not, then we would be seeing that as 
>>well.  I believe that we are seeing that it is not.
>I agree with you, however we shouldn't confuse the Internet/digital 
>networks in general with the larger techno-social system within 
>which they exist. In point of fact, digital networks perform many 
>tasks much more energy-efficiently than we could do without them 
>(telecommuting vs. actual jet travel for example), so I would expect 
>them to continue to thrive in an energy-constrained future even if 
>many other facets of our society are radically reconfigured.

But in the end, that's a little like saying how much money I will 
save by buying a pair of pants at 50% off the regular price.  I don't 
save anything, I spend money buying the pants.

The Internet as an infrastructure cannot (except theoretically) be 
excised from the techno-social system that it is embedded within. 
Energy consumption of that system rises, is rising.  Web 2.0 sites 
brought online huge numbers of energy-consuming server farms which 
never existed when users did not previously store social network 
data, for example.  And the energy usage stats can't be limited to 
nation-states, because it's a global boat we are (apparently) 
floating in.  It's like saying the US uses far less energy making 
steel now than it did 50 years ago.  What about how much it consumes? 
And where was the other steel made?  The same argument was also used 
with digital creating "paperless" offices -- track paper usage.


Of course, in the process of the engineered evolution of any 
particular device there will be optimization -- that is the goal of 
engineering. If that wasn't the case, our system would have never 
been marginally sustainable from the beginning.  Extracting stats on 
theoretically isolated elements is not valid except for more 
back-slapping "we've done it, we've found a way to have and eat our 
cake" -- and it represents no real solution.  It is exactly this 
localized isolation of elements which allows this mentality to 
persist.  Just as with many previous industrial advances where a 
resource was abundant, any negative affects of the use of that 
resource was able to be overlooked by the end user who was somehow 
isolated (usually geographically) from them.  That geographic 
isolation is no longer possible when the effects are global.  Think, 
on a globe there are no isolated corners to sit in anymore.

This is exactly the point that I am making -- that unless people 
realize that radical shifts in our relationship with the deep and 
broad techno-social infrastructure, we are not making real reductions 
in the overall footprint, and it is the size of the cumulative 
footprint that will spell the difference between sustainability or 
the alternative which is only dimly making itself known through the 
fog of naivety.  (and believe me, I don't place myself above the 
fray, but energy consumption and the reliance on the largely 
invisible functioning of that globe-spanning infrastructure is a 
seriously addictive way to go)...

John Hopkins :: neoscenes - bridge between eye and soul
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