Designing waste out of networks

"Most people have a Wi-Fi router in their home," network expert Ben Schwarz explains to me. “The latest generation Wi-Fi router will typically consume about 15 watts per hour of use. The difference between when the Wi-Fi network is empty and when it is completely full is around 10%. If it requires 14 watts of power ticking along with nothing on the network, and then you load it up to its maximum network capacity, it'll start requiring 16-17 watts. And you get the same thing with all network equipment. There are over one billion Wi-Fi routers in the world, and let’s put the average at 10 devices per home. Just imagine if the designers cared about every milliwatt? A milliwatt times a billion, times 10, it's 10 megawatts.”

In the world of the Growth Death Cult, energy and resources are infinitely available at a close to zero cost. Infinite energy and resources on a finite planet? You’re not a believer! You must show faith in progress and innovation. “The comparison between a fixed line and a radio mobile network,” Ben says, “is that radio will consume between five and 20 times more energy, so it is massive.” So, a wire is a much more energy-efficient way to transfer data. But the convenience. Oh, the convenience. Destroying our environment for the convenience.

“Over the last few decades,” Ben tells me, “with design and implementation of equipment, whether it’s for use by telecom operators or people in their homes, when it’s stuff that gets plugged into a wall, we’ve never really worried long-term about energy consumption. When you go out to a store and buy anything with a power cord, you can pretty much bet that it was designed as if energy was free.”

Convenience is an environmental curse. Our need for convenience is doing so much damage to the air, the soil, the water. Convenience is a core driver of waste. Speed and acceleration are core causes of environmental collapse. “If we are to put the networks to sleep at some stage so as to conserve energy, then there will be a trade-off with convenience,” Ben explains. “They won’t be as instantaneously available.”

And that’s a huge problem for the likes of Amazon and Facebook because their business model is our addiction to convenience. So much of Big Tech today makes its biggest profits from maximizing overconsumption. The faster they can get us to spend and consume, the less they know we will be thinking wisely and the more power they will have over us.

Convenience is a trap. Convenience is a drug. And so many of us are data addicts. We are addicts of immediate feedback, of constant stimulation. If it’s bad for us adults, think of what it’s like for our children, who Facebook and the likes have relentlessly targeted, seeking to manipulate and shape into the perfect consumers, the perfect devourers of our environment. The environmental devastation of Fast Fashion is just one example of Big Tech dystopia. Fast Fashion would not be possible without the Internet.

We must break free from the clutches of Big Tech before we collapse everything. The first step in breaking free is simple. Slow down.

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Podcast with Ben Schwarz: Ben Schwarz: Is 5G a good thing or not?

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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