In a climate crisis, text should be default option for communication

Text is the most environmentally friendly form of communication. 1,000 words of text weighs about 7 KB and takes up about two A4 pages. Two A4 pages with images could easily weigh 100 KB, and that’s for well-optimized images. Poorly optimized images weigh in the megabytes.

We’ve been analyzing a lot of Web images recently and have found that on average they could be 80% better optimized. So, an image that is 100 KB could be 20 KB and they would look exactly the same on the screen.

There is an assumption that images are better for communication than text and that video is the best of all. We greatly underestimate text. Imagine civilization without text. Imagine science, politics, philosophy, government, business, without text. We take text for granted.

A minute’s worth of video will easily weigh in the megabytes, thousands of times more than the equivalent of text. But it’s better, isn’t it? Video is better than text because video is video and we all know that everyone prefers video to text. Except everyone doesn’t.

Over the years, we have watched thousands of people try to complete tasks on websites. For the majority of the tasks, they didn’t need video and in fact most of them, when presented with video options, actively avoided them. For lots and lots of tasks, people hate it if video is the only option.

But so many want to use video these days. Nobody reads, we’re told. Except that that’s just not true. The Web is still dominated by words and millions of people read millions of words every day. Words aren’t cool, though. Web teams and senior management like to be cool. They like to have a video on the homepage because often that video is of a senior manager or some pet project, and that video is a statement that the organization has the capacity to make videos. It seems that it’s very important to show off that you can make videos.

Aside from the fact that a video is thousands of times more polluting than the equivalent amount of text, video has numerous other disadvantages. Video is harder to control than text. It’s harder to browse, to navigate, to search, to pause. Text gives you more of an ability to go at your own pace and to take just what you need. When you need a very specific piece of information, video is a real pain.

Properly editing a video requires a lot of skill, and a badly edited video is much worse than badly edited text because you can more easily skip unnecessary text, whereas with video that’s much harder to do.

We’re in a climate emergency, a code red for humanity. Text is like walking to school whereas using video is like taking the SUV. Sure, reducing flying and driving has a really big impact. However, every gram of CO2 we save is vital to save. We need to think about the environmental impacts of how we communicate.

An SMS is the most environmentally friendly way to communicate using technology. The same message sent by email is about 300 times more polluting. The same message delivered by video is about 50,000 times more polluting.

Modern technology feeds a culture of waste. The free economy costs the earth. Google, Facebook, Twitter peddle a Big Lie. Advertising is perhaps the most wasteful and climate-destructive force we face. The tech economy has taught us to lose our sense of value and worth. When you lose you sense of value, it’s not hard to lose your sense of values.

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