Moving beyond the Cult of Volume (Part 3)

Did you ever wonder how much data you produce? In 2020, it was estimated that 1.7 megabytes of data were created every second for every person on earth. We have created more data in the last two years than in all of previous human history.

When Liam Nugent shut down his digital agency, he calculated how much data he and his colleagues had created. 100 gigabytes a year for each person. “When I totalled it all up,” Liam explains, “we had five one-terabyte hard drives full of stuff, as well as MacBooks with 250-gigabyte drives. This was the result of nine years of work.

“We had to look at all this stuff and try to decide what was actually useful from it,” Liam states. “What were we going to give to the clients to take forward into the future? So, we basically went from eight terabytes of data that we had accrued, and when we cleaned it all up, it boiled down to 850 megabytes of real purposeful, useful information.”

850 megabytes of useful information from eight terabytes of data.
Therefore 99.99989375% waste.

“We had this almost Japanese factory culture. You’re in this room with a lovely wooden floor, white walls, big windows, natural light, plants, some tastefully chosen books on the shelves,” Liam explains. “We went to Ikea and bought these black canvas boxes. We had a cleaner who came in on a Friday night. So, we had this policy that everyone had to clear their desk on a Friday, put all their stuff in this wee black box, and the box was put on the shelf, so the cleaner could come in and not have to worry about touching computers or moving things around. And if I was last out, I’d sometimes give a glance at the room and think, we’re neat and tidy and efficient and we’re trying to do things in the right way. But it’s just a veneer. Underneath it there’s a belching diesel engine just puffing out smoke.”

That’s digital for you. A surface of shiny, constantly changing style, while down below the engine is filthy. Nobody deletes. Nobody maintains. Nobody archives. Once it’s published, once it’s launched, nobody cares, because in our global warming economy, the only thing that matters is to produce and consume.

What would Liam do different if he was starting an agency again? “Number one, I think, would be to create a culture of deleting things, which hardly anyone ever does. Make it a mantra. If you’ve used something, the default should be to delete it unless there’s a very good reason to save it.

“The next thing would be to set limits. Measure it. Say that you’ve got 50 gigabytes of storage this year so that people know when they’re hitting their limits. So that they have to make decisions about what they keep and don’t keep. You need to train them how to do it. Create a culture that is confident enough to say, we decided we didn’t need that. Try and be careful. Make everyone aware of what the real cost underneath this stuff is, how much energy is being used.”

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