Saturday, April 11, 2009

dirty media

The third is from a 'vision statement' prepared for Third Text's 100th issue due later this year.

The third problem with ICT4D concerns its articulation with sustainability. In theory, digital communications substitute for energy-hungry transportation, encourage people to stay home in villages rather than risk the desperate conditions of the slums, and prepare economies for transition to the supposedly weightless condition of the advanced information economies. The sad truth is that digital technologies are more, not less, polluting and energy-hungry than predecessor media like film and print. The environmental footprint of digital media comes in several phases: (1) The extraction of raw materials, including rare earths and gemstones often mined under appalling conditions, and subject to strategic struggles to secure supplies among the major powers (for the case of sapphires, important for LED fabrication, see Rosaleen Duffy's article) (2) the manufacturing of computers and computer parts on offshore, unregulated and immiserated areas such as the maquiladoras of the Mexican-US border region (see Coco Fusco's The Bodies that Were Not Ours); (3) the built-in obsolescence of the computer industry, based on constant cycles of updates and system changes (4) the energy requirements of manufacture and of use (see for example the Koomey report on server energy usage) and (5) the recycling and dumping of unwanted computers, many of which pass through donation programs to the developing world before finding their inevitable way to the nightmare of recycling villages, notably in West Africa and Southern China (see the Exporting Harm and Digital Dump reports from the Basel Action Network). Attempts to build systems which do not have these impacts are the next challenge: they need to learn from the failures of earlier Western-inspired and impracticable projects like the Kinkajou projector and, though its ultimate fate is yet to be seen, the One Laptop Per Child project. The challenges for art are now no longer to make different and better content, but to make different and better networks: more just, more open, more adaptable and more environmentally sustainable.

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