Turning off, deleting: Tips for sustainable laptops, part 2

Shutting down your laptop is good for the environment and for your laptop (and for your mental health). Shut down as many digital devices as you can. In the US, up to 20% of electricity is "vampire power". It's wasted by devices that are always on but not being used. Your Wi-Fi, for example, is hugely inefficient. Once you switch it on, it consumes basically the same amount of energy whether you are using it or not. Shutting down Wi-Fi at night will save considerable energy over a year.

If possible, don't let your battery go below 20% before recharging. Even if you're close to power, it's no harm to occasionally work off your battery. Delete the apps that you don't use and update the apps you do use. Watch out for the startup apps. Many of them you don't need and they can really slow a computer down, while consuming lots of unnecessary energy. Close apps that you are not using. Close tabs on your browser that you no longer need.

It's really important to get into good housekeeping habits. In digital, we have been trained to create, and we have been trained not to tidy up after ourselves. All data has an environmental cost. The less data, the less apps, the better for everything and everybody. Regularly delete your junk folder. Regularly delete your cache.

Get into good habits. Every time you create something, try to think of something to delete. Every time you go into a folder looking for a file, look for a file to delete. We must build up good habits of deletion and archiving. 95% of data is not used three months after it’s stored. Data centers are a huge stress of the environment. A large one can consume over a million liters of water every day, as well as massive quantities of electricity, while producing huge quantities of e-waste. Don't feed the monster. Keep your laptop light and clean. Delete that data.

We are devouring 1.75 Earths of resources a year to get the materials to build our laptops, smartphones and two-ton SUVs. We must radically rethink our relationships with materials. Electronics are particularly materially intense. For a laptop to be in any way sustainable, it needs to last 20 years. That is impossible today because of design decisions by brands like Apple and Dell.

There is no way any of this will change without concerted community action. The Right to Repair gives hope and if you have technical skills and can contribute to that movement, it would be so helpful if you did.

We must design products with far fewer materials, and with materials that are truly reusable. That means, for example, no more plastic. Individuals will have no impact here, as materials scientist Josh Lepawsky told me. Communities will. We are the last generation that can genuinely help save the environment before it tips over.

Organizing and agitating for 20-year computers is the only way we will ever get 20-year computers. It is down to the community. We must organize and act.

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