The elements of Earth experience

In analyzing the Top Tasks vote, there emerged three major areas that we need to focus on if we are to achieve a great Earth experience:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Worth
  3. Waste

Wisdom is about truth, Nature and human experience. In an age flooded by misinformation and fake news, it has never been more important to champion truth. The tasks that got the biggest votes in relation to truth are:

  1. Transparent, truthful: do not mislead, exploit through design
  2. Design Light Patterns as against Dark Patterns, design for transparency, best for user, best for planet
  3. Avoid the false economies of free and cheap

Those who have no concern for the truth have no concern for the environment. It is no surprise, for example, that in the UK the Brexiters who lied relentlessly to achieve their Brexit are now seeking to lie relentlessly to undermine any initiatives that might save the environment. Misinformation rarely has good intent. The criminals and gangsters peddling Web3, NFT and crypto scams sometimes try to hide their greed behind claims that they are somehow liberating poor oppressed people or that they are encouraging innovation in renewable energy. In reality, crypto is a scourge on the environment.

Some may say that this is not our concern. That we are simple designers, user experience professionals, content people, developers. The living world is under threat because too many of us (and I very much include myself here) have ignored the externalities of our actions or inactions. It may seem very unrealistic or lacking in real business sense to talk about wisdom, but wisdom is where it all starts, and if we don’t achieve more wisdom, it is where it will all end.

We cannot and must not separate our actions and our professions from the climate emergency. We are all actors on the stage of Earth. We all can pursue truth. We all can call out lies and misinformation. Designs that mislead are always designs that want to get people to pay more, consume more, waste more.

“Children born today will emit 10 times less carbon during their lifetimes than their grandparents if the world achieves the goal of reducing global emissions to net zero by 2050,” an IEA report has stated. The implications of this are enormous. We must consume less. We begin the journey with wisdom and a foundation of truth. We avoid the dark patterns of design and move to the light. We find ways to say to people that maybe they don’t need this right now, with a view that we will build a long-term relationship with this person, that they will be loyal to us and trust us because we have their best interests and the Earth’s best interests at heart. Truthful design and good for the planet.

One of the very worst economic models is the economy of free and cheap because it is a model built on a lie. If it’s free, they say, you are the product. Cheap costs the Earth. The cheap plastic and the cheap products it makes quickly become 1,000-year toxic waste. We cannot solve deep needs, we cannot plan for the long term, with cheap fixes and quick wins.

Google and Facebook claim to be technology companies but what they really are is advertising companies. 97% of Facebook revenue and 80% of Google revenue comes from advertising. They are advertising companies who use technology to sell advertising. There is no industry that has done more damage to the environment than the advertising industry. Not alone has it driven and accelerated overconsumption, but it has also driven the overconsumption of some of the worst and most damaging of products, from cigarettes to SUVs.

Much of Big Tech is built on a Big Lie. Big Tech services are not free. They come with a huge cost to society and the environment. Even at a basic technical level they have a massive cost. The surveillance, the tracking, collection, storage and analysis of data has major energy costs. At least 75% of the pollution an ad-driven website will cause will not be because of its content, but rather because of its hidden advertising architecture. For example, when the USA Today website in Europe removed ads and tracking scripts to comply with EU data privacy regulations, its homepage was reduced from 5 MB to 500 KB.

An analysis by Joana Moll of the top million websites found 21 million tracking cookies belonging to a surveillance network of more than 1,200 different companies. Every month, 197 trillion cookies are moving back and forth across this deceitful network, resulting in 11,442 monthly metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. This is CO2 caused just by the cookies. There is a gargantuan, heavy, polluting surveillance tracking web underneath the Web we see.

As digital professionals, let us seek out truth, let us embrace truth, and let us embed truth in our designs and in every piece of code and content we write.

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