Digital is garbage

Digital is mainly garbage. 90% of data is never accessed again 90 days after it is first stored. 80% of downloaded apps are never used again after 90 days. 90% of data has been created in the last two years. Over the years, we found that we had to delete 90% of a typical website to make it useful. Even the information that is used is usually full of garbage. I’ve rarely come across 1,000 words that can’t be edited down to 200 and made more effective.

And images, all those utterly stupid, useless stock images strewn across the Web. In every organization, there must be a Department of Useless Images.

“Hey, I’m looking for a useless image for an article I’m writing about digital garbage.”

“How about some old computers piled in a heap, or some network images, or someone screaming at their computer, or lots of ones and zeros?”

A Microsoft executive once told me that there were an estimated 15 million pages on, four million of which had never been accessed. That’s basically the population of Ireland of stuff that nobody has ever looked at. Why?

Digital is a huge accelerant of global warming. It encourages the production of stuff on an unimaginable scale. And most of this stuff is garbage. It’s one thing to use energy to create something useful that will be used again and again. It’s simply appalling behaviour to use energy to create something that becomes garbage a few moments after its creation.

Modern technology facilitates the production of cheap, disposable crap. In Ireland, festival-goers leave behind a wasteland of single-use tents. Fast Fashion is the number two global polluter, right after the oil industry. People are buying an excessive number of clothes, hardly wearing them, and then dumping them. But of course, they don’t degrade because they’re made of polymers and all that crap.

Digital is like sugar: it’s so sweet and irresistible, so easy to create, so easy to store, so easy to ignore. So cheap. So everywhere. Digital is the ultimate ‘just do it’ mantra. Think of all that useless content that organizations create. Why? Because that’s what management wants. The senior marketing manager wants the bling stock images because they look cool. Marketers find these sugar-coated smiley faces irresistible. And stock images are so cheap now. Why not pump them everywhere? Who cares if they slow down the site and waste energy? Who cares if it takes longer to scroll and find things?

All this stuff we create. Why? Do we ever ask why? We never have time because 90% of it is spent creating garbage. We never have time to do it right. We only have time to do it wrong. We can’t resist the tools of creation. Maintain? Who wants to maintain and continuously improve when you can just create something and then throw it away? And of course, creating new crap is how you get ahead in 90% of organizations.

If digital was a digestive system, it would have no capacity to poop. Every PC and smartphone is like a mini-garbage truck brimming over with useless junk. Think before you create. Before you take that picture, write that content or code. Are you doing something genuinely useful?

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