Big Tech drives overconsumption (Part 3)

Next issue: January 8, 2024

The meta-crisis we face is overconsumption and practically the entire infrastructure, strategies and tactics of the technology industry are about devouring overconsumption. Netflix, YouTube and TikTok want to turn you into binge addicts. Google, Facebook and Twitter are advertising companies focused on engagement addiction so as to get you to buy, buy, buy. Amazon is at core a discounter that hooks you into constant purchasing. Digital discounters, offering this deal and that deal, free delivery and free returns, easy to use this and easy to use that—it’s all designed to make you not think. To make all purchasing and behavior impulse-driven and thus much easier to control and manipulate.

Digital is made out to be a world without costs, or a world where the costs are so low, so meaningless, they’re hardly worth thinking about. Data pushers entice you with free tiers, storing everything you do multiple times, pushing you to higher levels of consumption, making it incredibly difficult for you to delete. The mobile networks want you to download massive quantities of data at lightning speeds, to consume, consume, consume, and move from 3G to 4G to 5G to 6G to InfinityG. Apple and Samsung, masters of planned obsolescence, compel you to change your phone every couple of years. The bottom line and stock market value of Big Tech grows as we devour and waste.

All the promises. All the promises. Teleworking studies that are sponsored by tech companies that sell teleworking solutions are effusive about the CO2 savings. 50% or more CO2 can be saved by working from home, we are told. Definitely, there is potential. However, sometimes the opposite occurs. I have worked from home since the early 2000s, and that changed the nature of who I could work for. I didn’t need to focus on getting work locally. I got work all over the world, and while most of it was remote, now and then I needed to travel and that meant that I flew a lot and thus did huge damage to the environment.

Technology is a consumption accelerator, an impulse driver, an addiction hell. It’s all about speed, increasing the production, consumption and the wasting of things. The rise of the Web fueled the cheap flights and cheap accommodation explosion. People felt they could afford to spend a weekend away in some random city. After all, they were working from home and needed the break.

If we don’t address the overconsumption devouring meta-crisis, we have no hope of saving our environment. Modern technology is the spear point of overconsumption. Modern technology emboldens and drives the Growth Death Cult. Very carefully used, technology can help reduce environmental damages. Right now, its core and relentless focus is the very opposite, seeking to turn us all into devouring addicts, with the only real objective being to drive up the value of Big Tech stock. While we must think long term, the Big Tech next-quarter financial results are the only horizon allowed.

We are a suicide gang. A Growth Death Cult. We need cultural and behavioral changes where we create less, consume less, repair more, slow down, live more locally. All of these changes will severely hurt the Big Tech stock price, so we need to recognize that Big Tech, along with Big Oil and Big Capitalism, will do everything in their power to stop these changes happening. Big Tech is making far too much money from the unfolding environmental catastrophe to worry about the consequences of its short-term greedy obsessions. Only at a society and community level is there hope that the real changes we need can take root and grow. It requires millions of conversations and thousands of community-based organizations. We must get organized at a local level.

A long road ahead: a review of the state of knowledge of the environmental effects of digitization, Gauthier Roussilhe, Anne-Laure Ligozat, Sophie Quinton, Environmental Sustainability, 2023

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