Internet Exceptionalism

When I started doing recruiting work for Twin Oaks Community (in 1998), there was a relatively recent survey of visitors to the community.  One of the questions which was of interest to me was “How did you first hear about Twin Oaks?”  The number one answer was “word of mouth/from a friend”  This has changed over the last decade.  Now the most popular answer by far is “the internet”

The most common exception to green attitudes

The most common exception to green attitudes

I don’t think this is because people are talking about Twin Oaks less, rather I think it is because people have changed the way they seek information in the world.  When I was young (before the internet existed) I used to be on a first name basis with the reference librarians in my town.  These super helpful folks would provide the free service of figuring out the answer to almost any reasonably formulated question.  They still do this, but google does it faster.

How do you spell ubiquitous?

How do you spell ubiquitous?

More importantly, when you are designing community, if you want people who are under 30 years of age, you can be very rustic and sustainable in almost all the services you provide, but unless you want to eliminate 99.9% of the group, you need to have internet access.

On the off chance you have not heard, globally the internet is a resource pig.  With over 500K data centers worldwide, each consuming about 10 megawatts of power at a US cost of $300K per month each.  This piece alone works out to 2% of global electricity consumption.  A more comprehensive estimate is fully 10% of global electricity use, with end user devices being the biggest piece.  There are 1.6 billion PCs and notebooks connected to the internet today plus over 6 billion mobile devices, almost one per person – though they are certainly not distributed this way.  In other words, the internet consumes more electricity than all of the over 2 billion people in Africa and India together or about 2/3rs of what the US uses each year.  One single service.

Unlike nuclear exceptionalism, i can make the case for internet exceptionalism.  The classical case is that the internet moves electrons of information in place of moving the physical atoms books or pictures.  jpegs are far cheaper than photographs, PDF’s lower impact than pages of a book.    But then there is the technological optimist case, which has a bunch of pieces.

Greenpeace shamed Apple into cleaning up their act - Amazon, not yet

Greenpeace shamed Apple and Facebook into cleaning up their act – Amazon, not yet

One piece is the internet can help people find each other and if we believe that human nature is more positive than negative, this increases the chances of successful positive initiatives.    Another aspect is rapid correction of public information.  Even in researching this article i learned a bunch of things, including that there are folks intentionally exaggerating the amount of electricity used by the internet, these claims get debunked and corrected faster.  A critical piece is the ability to share resources more effectively, from couchsurfing and craigslist ride shares all the way up to new markets which could not exist before.  My personal hope is that second generation social networks displace Facebook and other first generation social networks in offering real distributed libraries and peer to peer bartered services.

Finally, there is the emerging group mind aspect.  Where we use the internet to collectively solve problems (including ones created by the internet and advanced technology).  Some of this is happening, but sadly this is not the focus of internet activity.

[It should be pointed out that there has been a misinformation campaign about how much electricity the internet uses.  Time Magazine feel for this scam including the wacko math which had iPhones consuming more power than refrigerators, by attributing all the power needed to run the infrastructure and data to the phone.  Our friends at the Breakthrough Institute, who are a front group for the nuclear industry, and produced the lie fest called Pandora’s Promise, created this lopsided gem that Time Magazine used.  So the 10% number i site above comes from Stanford’s Jonathan Koomey, who is pushing a 100% renewables agenda and is attacking the misinformation campaign.  So i am assuming his numbers about internet energy consumption are good ones.]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

One response to “Internet Exceptionalism”

  1. Kenna J. Josephene says :

    I lament the loss of reference librarians. I’ve never stopped calling the library with my questions. In 2014, in Tucson, the people who answer the Info Line telephones are not librarians, they are just folks in front of computers. When I ask whether there is a particular resource in which I can look up certain kinds of data, they google it, which is exactly what I could have done myself. I fear that this is because reference books aren’t actually being printed anymore. I do know that the library system in Albuquerque in 2008 had pretty much stopped buying books, which I find horrifying. Public libraries are the foundation of democracy.

    At the same time, the internet has changed the nature of reality the same way the printing press did. I suppose my lament of the lack of librarians is similar to lamenting the lack of clerics to help me navigate my faith.

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