Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rich media sustainability

Perhaps the most intriguing, even ominous aspect of near-future scenarios is 'ubicomp', ubiquitous computing, combining the 'internet of things' with the increasing integration of mobile wireless and internet media. RFID tags (Hayles 2009), biochips (Thacker 2004) and a variety of wireless devices can be installed in anything from fridges to mousetraps, immigration controls to pets, creating a vast demand for new storage and communication services. Meanwhile the convergence of both technologies and companies in hardware like Google's G3 competitor to Apple's iPhone, software like Google's Android mobile operating system, and applications like Google Voice indicate that advanced small screen technology, integration of services including social networking, the arrival of portable formats for books, games, music and feature films, and the inclusion of respectable cameras and recording technologies in handheld devices will increase both the quantity and the traffic in data over the foreseeable future. That increase has been measured in a number of ways (see for example Lyman and Varian 2003). One remarkable finding is that 'the amount of information created, captured, or replicated exceeded available storage for the first time in 2007. Not all information created and transmitted gets stored, but by 2011, almost half of the digital universe will not have a permanent home' (Gantz 2008). Estimating the current size of the digital universe at close to 300 billion gigabytes, Gantz's team at consultants IDC do not make extravagant claims for growth. But as television, for example, moves towards both high definition and on-demand network delivery, the quality as well as quantity of media involved in net traffic os likely to expand with no clear end in sight. The question is whether this is a sustainable future.

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