Thursday, January 27, 2011


This last weekend I finally saw the social network. I’m glad to be living back in a place that has movie theaters. It was atrocious I had to wait this long, after all, I did write my capstone paper about Facebook. I enjoyed the movie, quite a lot actually. Afterward, I realize that while I was researching the paper I learned about the structure and layout of Facebook, but virtually nothing about its creators. Sean Parker, former president of the company, spoke out against the film, saying it was inaccurate, and that he was misrepresented. Its understandable, the film didn’t really portray the creators in an appealing light, but I think Mark Zuckerberg’s response is much more interesting.
"We build products that 500 million people see... If 5 million people see a movie, it doesn't really matter that much." The implication here is that it doesn’t matter what people think, there will always be people dying to use Facebook.

Zuckerberg’s comment made me think about Facebook and its 500 million+ users, and the way that we perceive and use energy in the new world of social media. A report from the guardian in 2009 outlines the major challenges for Internet companies to provide billions of web pages and files on the Internet without consuming vast amounts of energy. The report points out how planet has finite resources; as such we cannot continue to grow the reach of the Internet to the point of eclipsing those constraints. Unfortunately, nobody really understands how much energy the Internet really uses, I mean how much energy does it take to send an email? How much does it take to upload a video to youtube? How much energy does it take to friend someone on Facebook?

The way that we have ingrained social media, and the internet at large into our lives doesn’t ask these questions. Part of the problem lies in the fact that, as a whole, modern society doesn’t really understand what energy is, where it comes from and how is moves. Technologically advanced societies have become increasingly cut off from conceptualizing energy and their individual role in its consumption. For most of us, its just a magical power that drifts into and out of our lives like snow. Most people don’t really have any idea how much energy they are using (save maybe some friends of mine in Vermont). Even more interestingly, companies, like Facebook, don’t allow consumers access to data on how much energy those companies consume. That’s likely because the figure is so grotesque that it would incite global outrage. But according to news sources, Facebook is on track to consume about 1,963bn kilowatt hours of electricity by 2020, which is more power than is used by France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined.


Facebook, insists that it is working to shift from coal based power plants, to renewable sources of power, and I applaud that effort. We need more billion-dollar companies investing in renewable sources of energy. However, moving to sustainable energy consumption doesn’t seem to address the actual issue which is that it seems such a waste to burn fossil fuels just to keep a bunch of pictures from jimmys party online when they mostly just look like this:

Facebook users upload roughly about 2.5 Billion photos every month! But the real question is, does this contribute to the social dialogue? Does this help us gain deeper personal reflection or knowledge? I’m not saying that every photo or website has to inspire us to be better people, or change the world, but we are using so much of the earths resources, not to explore space, not to teach our children the value of life and the wonder of the universe, but to turn the whole world wide web into a global version people magazine, where everyone is a celebrity. Andy Warhol had it so right! We are all famous, but instead for 15 minutes its gonna be forever…

That’s right forever. Think of that when you untag yourself from that ugly photo of you in the tube top, just cause you aren’t tagged doesn’t mean that that photo disappears, it ends up on the world wide cacophony, and with new innovations in facial recognition software everyday, don’t expect those awful photos to remain hidden for long.

As if the horror of ancient pictures surfacing of you doing the time warp dressed from head to toe in Goth regalia from the 7th grade isn’t enough to keep you up at night, how about this: In august then CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, predicted that in the future children will change their names as a rite of passage, because they will want to distance themselves from their youthful personas and indiscretions, all of which will be available on the web. "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time... I mean we really have to think about these things as a society." When questioned about this dystopian preview of what’s to come, and pressed on the issue of individual privacy (a topic for another day) his response was this “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Not the kind of response I want to hear from the head of a company that is “self regulated” to protect all of our privacy. More recently, Wired magazine writer Patton Oswalt comments on this new and growing concern of what he calls Etewaf, or (Everything That Ever Was Available Forever) in his recent article “Wake Up, Geek culture. Time to Die,”
he describes ETEWAF as phenomenon that dilutes the culture into a neverending trove of special features, and trivia that doesn’t actually add to the culture. The danger outlined by Oswalt is that, “Etewaf doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there’s a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie?”

I think we are headed towards if not already in the midst of ETEWAF. We are spending massive amounts of time and energy converting the actual world into a digital one. Indexing, cataloging, tagging, everything in our lives. I am just as caught up in this as anyone else. I post tons of pictures on Facebook and I love it! Heck this blog is using energy that I am not paying for. But the point is, SOMEONE is paying for it. And though the advertisers may tell us different, not everyone can have a 3g phone, our grid cant handle it, and more to the point, why should it.

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