Say no to misleading titles on digital tecnologies

 

We can’t afford that, in an age when most people stop to titles.

Say no to misleading titles on digital tecnologies /img/sdgs.jpg

ICTworks just republished a great article, but giving it a misleading title: “Digital Technologies Are Part of the Climate Change Problem”. The main thesis is that “the digital technology industry is one of the least sustainable and most environmentally damaging industrial sectors in the modern world”, in spite of the fact that its leaders’ claim that they are contributing significantly to delivering the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The article explains, with plenty of details and sources, how and why the industry is doing anything but that these days, in all these areas

  1. Technology Redundancy and Unsustainability
  2. Technology Driving Electricity Demand
    • a. Electricity for Manufacturing Devices
    • b. Electricity for Digital Technology Use
    • c. Electricity for New Digital Technologies (“notably blockchain (*)”)
    • d. Electricity for 5G (*) and Internet of Things (*)
  3. Technology’s Environment Exploitation (*)
    • a. Need for Rare Minerals
    • b. Mining Rare Minerals
  4. Technology’s Direct Environmental Impact

All the links and asterisks in the list above point to articles of mine that show how much I agree with the actual content of each and which solution I propose. They also show, I hope, why I consider seriously misleading both the title and the final subtitle that ICTWorks sticked onto that piece, that is “Digital Technology is Fundamentally Unsustainable”. The truth is that:

“Digital technology” is not the same as TODAY’s digital ECONOMY

The original version of that article, which is linked at the bottom of the ICTworks section, has a less misleading title: “Unsustainable” digital technologies cannot deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. It also does not have the subtitle “Digital Technology is Fundamentally Unsustainable”. Much better, but still misleading. I would rather say that:

  • the digital “industry of today is critical because, even before toxic raw materials, it devours too much funding (and attention) that should really be spent on solving real problems. Like this, for example
  • but all mainstream business models in EVERY sector of our current ECONOMY are fundamentally unsustainable, regardless of which technology they exploit. What about concrete, to make just one example? And even if they were “100% green”, those business models (again: not technologies) would still be harmful enough to society to be embarrassing

If we ask the wrong questions, the answers don’t matter

In the conclusion of that piece its author, Mr. T. Unwin, writes:

“It is as if these technologies are themselves preventing humans from understanding their environmental implications. Someone living in a their own virtual reality in a smart home in a smart city bubble… and communicating at a distance with everyone, will perhaps no longer mind about the despoliation of hillsides, the flooding of valleys, the carving out of canyons to feed the machines’ craving for minerals…”

But if you replace “smart home in a smart city bubble” with “home, suburb and city bubble of the 1980s”, it still holds. Forty years ago, most western homes, suburbs, cities and non-digital products were already deliberately designed for obsolescence and waste. There already were too many unneeded buildings, too many McMansions, too many cars, too many throwaway plastic gadgets and too many commercials distancing everybody from the real social and environmental impacts of the system.

We need a real, serious reboot of the digital sector of the economy to start using appropriate digital technology to solve the problems we have rather than invent new ones, and generally complicate things. That is true. But THE problem is the current concepts of economy, and toxic ways to measure it like “growth” of “GDP”. Not transistors, or software, in and by themselves.

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