Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ubiquitous Media, Rare Earths

At a talk at the Pervasive Media Studio, University of the West of England, I mentioned a statement attributed to Thomas Huxley, doyen of Victorian science, that the oceans were effectively inexhaustible, and that we might throw into them and take from them as much as we please, and they would still feed us endlessly. I made the comparison with contemporary beliefs that the internet and digital communications can grow without limit. But of course, both the oceans – as we know to our cost – and the internet – as we will have to learn – are finite resources. But when I checked, the Huxley quote wasn't quite so mad: the more measured actual statement can be found in his Inaugural Address to the Fisheries Exhibition, London (1883) courtesy of The Huxley File.

Even without the "ta-da" moment that my misquotation provided, the point is still valid, I think: we act as if computing and network resources were unbounded. But materials, manufacture, use and recycling put boundaries round the materiality of internet and convergent media. The squalor and penury associated with extracting metals, building computers and recycling mobiles, TVs and digital devices are one half of a story which includes toxic waste, toxic working conditions, human waste from the maquilladoras, atnospheric and water pollution in the recycling villages of Africa and China, species and habitat loss . . .

Like any other form of organisation, maintaining the negentropy of the internet requires vast amounts of energy, physical and human. It also requires materials that are becoming more strategic and costly by the minute.

here are a few links that got me started:

Basel Action Network (2002), Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia,
Basel Action Network, The Digital Dump: Exporting High-Tech Re-use and Abuse to Africa,, 2005
Boccaletti, Giulio, Markus Löffler, and Jeremy M. Oppenheim (2008), 'How IT can cut carbon emissions', Mckinsey Quarterly, October,
Cap Gemini (2008), 'Green IT Report 2008 The Computer Equipment Lifecycle Survey',
The Climate Group (2008), SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age, mart2020Report.pdf
Climate Savers Computing
Duffy, Rosaleen (2005), 'Criminalisation and the politics of governance: illicit gem sapphire mining in Madagascar', Paper originally prepared for: ‘Redesigning the state? Political corruption in development policy and practice’ conference at IDPM, Manchester University, 25 November.
Gantz John (project director) (2008), The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe, IDC White Paper, IDC, Framingham MA, March.
ITU (2007), ITU-T Technology Watch Report #3: ICTs and Climate Change, International Telecommunications Union, Geneva, December,
Koomey, Jonathan G. (2007), ‘Estimating Power Consumption by Servers in the US and the World', Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Stanford University, Stanford, February.
Lyman, Peter and Hal R Varian (2003), How Much Information?, University of California, Berkeley.
Stewart, Emma and John Kennedy (2009), 'The Sustainability Potential of Cloud Computing: Smarter Design', in Environmental Leader, Juy 20,
Weber, Christopher L., Jonathan G. Koomey, and H. Scott Matthews (2009), 'The Energy and Climate Change Impacts of Different Music Delivery Methods' Final report to Microsoft Corporation and Intel Corporation, August 17,

1 comment:

Thought Dan said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks for coming to the Studio this week, we were disappointed not to make the chat. As the implications of the work we do is so important!

We'll be digesting through all the materials you've kindly uploaded over the next few weeks.

Thanks again,

Thought Dan