Digital hell: if you love the planet, don't open this book

Digital hell: if you love the planet, don't open this book

Digital hell

“ A dematerialized world will be increasingly materialistic ”. It is with sentences like these, accompanied by data collected during a two-year international investigation, that the French journalist Guillaume Pitron destroys the myth of the lightness of the cloud. To show us the heaviness of a net which is measured in tons, has a color (green), a smell (rancid butter), a sound (shrill), a taste (salty), lives in frosty places but produces a lot of heat. The 180 pages of this book hurt because they confirm a suspicion, latent in our minds but never really dormant. I suspect it unfolds in the words of the author of Digital Inferno, today a guest of Trends (the event dedicated to the trends of the coming year): “ According to their heralds, the digital universe would be little more concrete than a 'cloud', the famous cloud in which we archive documents and photographs (…) yet fundamental questions remain: what is the physical impact of this tool? Are these new networks compatible with the energy transition? ”. The answer that rings out from the lines of this book is loud and clear: no. Our digital dimension is helping to destroy real livelihoods. And each of our likes on social media creates CO 2 , traveling around the planet the moment you click on your favorite emoji.

The Internet consumes more energy than India

If digital were a country would be the third most energy-intensive after China and the United States: in short, like India. There are 34 billion digital devices in circulation, weighing a total of about 223 million tons: like 179 million sedans. Bitcoin alone, the king of cryptocurrencies, consumes as much energy as the whole of Denmark. In general, ICTs consume 10% of world electricity, but their demand should double by 2025: consequently doubling the production of CO 2 .

Pitron has the quality of joining the essay to the narrative, taking us on a journey through a dozen countries. He starts from the largest smart city in the world, Masdar City in the Emirates, which wants to be the most eco-sustainable city on the planet (but for now it doesn't exist). Then we arrive in Taiwan, which ensures half of the world's production of integrated circuits, where the journalist forces us to reflect on the fact that 40% of national energy comes from coal and oil and that a single chip requires a lot of water to be produced. It is the day after of the hangover of recent years: convinced of becoming ever lighter and smarter, we have become unaware producers of a quantity of CO 2 and waste that are destined to grow. More and more.

The race to fatten pixels

The weight of a web page multiplied 115 times between 1995 and 2015, and the power required to write a text doubles every two to three years. The Net is an insatiable exploiter of electricity. While the appetite - also insatiable - of hardware manufacturers continues to condemn us to planned obsolescence: the life of a computer has gone from eleven to four years in three decades. And PCs, smartphones, vocal assistants that no longer update become waste. Such is the amount of these very material waste that according to Pitron's data man is altering the composition of the earth's crust, due to the contamination of the land with the components of buried electronic waste. Not only does it happen, but it will happen more and more: the Internet and its derivatives look like a car speeding by with tinted windows and the accelerator blocked. The Net is a huge market: too big to collapse, too rich to stop.

Every sixty seconds 1.3 million people connect to Facebook, 4.1 million searches are made on Google, 4.7 million videos are viewed and 4.7 million dollars are spent on sites of e-commerce. Every damned minute the digital race becomes more and more unsustainable for humanity that is waiting to be born or that begins to appear on the Earth.

AI will not save us: to exit, press off

In 2014, IBM presented Green Horizon, an artificial intelligence capable of recommending the most effective strategies to reduce the environmental impact of a large city like Beijing. Thanks to the support of this AI, in the first three quarters of 2015 the Chinese authorities managed to reduce the production of fine particles in the urban area by 20%. Yet there has been discussion for some time - and never with optimism - about the adoption of a digital Leviathan useful for solving humanity's environmental problems. Digital Inferno takes a clear position on the subject: it is extremely difficult to successfully face these challenges on a human level, but extremely dangerous to entrust the necessary solutions to an artificial intelligence dedicated to guiding us towards sustainable development. Which alone, according to some estimates, could already require 40% of global energy by 2040.

It's easier to change. It is more effective to educate ourselves in the use of digital tools and react individually: by deactivating notifications, deleting the most addictive apps and choosing only a few social networks to browse (or eliminating them completely from your smartphone). Leave your cell phone out of the bedroom or try to log off at least one day a week. Press off the Net, where and when possible.

An inconvenient truth

The conclusion of the journey into Pitron's digital underworld, hidden by the patina of visual filters by which we are seduced, is as simple as this as summed up by a point from a report cited in the book: the digital transition as it is implemented today contributes to climate change more than it helps to prevent it.

So, what can we little beings of flesh and blood do in front of this very fast mammoth that distracts us daily from its environmental weight? Inform ourselves, and therefore choose the best of what the Net can offer us. Not everything, only the best: we can find the rest beyond the screen. Because as the author writes “digital is a tool created in our image. This technology is - and will be - neither more nor less ecological than we are ”.

Powered by Blogger.