The nature of digital is environmentally destructive

Overconsumption is the meta crisis, the meta problem. Within a couple of hundred years we have moved from living sustainably to becoming consumers and wasters of more and more materials, to, in the last fifty years, becoming the great devourers. Greed among rich and middle class people has absolutely exploded. Why? Why have we suddenly started causing hundreds of times more toxic, environment-destroying waste than our ancestors did? I have come to believe that digital technology is a hidden underlying cause and key accelerant of overconsumption. Digital is like sugar. It’s too good to be true. If we don’t radically change our relationship with and attitudes to digital, we will most certainly face civilizational collapse within a very short period of time.

Digital is environmentally destructive because it is by its nature a volatile accelerant. It is not solid. It is fluid and infinitely changeable and that generates this constantly increasing momentum for greater speed. Digital is the ultimate creating, copying and producing machine. It is so easy to make something in digital, so easy to create data, to copy data, to store data. Digital is emotionally ethereal and light and invisible. We don’t really see digital as being physical. We don’t look at a phone and think and feel about the 70 materials in the phone. Many people think that their data is literally in some immaterial cloud.

Many of the most successful Internet brands have been either free services or discounters. Amazon is a discounter. It sells stuff at low margins with the intent of maximizing turnover. Amazon doesn’t want to sell you something that will last twenty years. It wants to sell you something it can sell you again and again and again. The Amazon business model needs products that don’t last. Netflix and YouTube desperately want you to keep consuming, keep consuming, to binge, binge, binge. Google and Facebook are advertising engines whose whole business value is based on advertising to you things you don’t really need.

When humans are forced to do things quickly, when we are forced to do things at speed, our long-term reasoning and ability to think clearly, greatly declines. We become devouring automatons and that is exactly the intent of much AI—to get us to buy more and more and more without even thinking. Because that is the holy grail of marketing—to produce consuming automatons, just-about-functioning addicts. Facebook and Twitter have worked hard to design worlds full of anger and stress and fear and hate, because these emotions make for good consuming automatons. The more we hate, the more we buy.

If all our crises and problems add up to 100, then 90 of them are cultural. We have allowed greed and hate to fester and dominate. And Big Tech has been a key primer of greed and hate, a key driver. The Big Tech coders, content designers, branders, marketers and PR maestros are so good that they have convinced us that not alone are they not a key part of the problem, they are in fact the saviours, the ultimate solution. We just need to fully “transition” to a 100% digital-dominated, Big Tech-controlled, surveillance capitalism world and everything will be great.

Think. Please think for a moment. What if our digital lifestyles are accelerating overconsumption? We don’t need to change our technology. We need to change our attitudes.

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