The not-so-obvious costs of technology

11 Jul

I recently heard an interesting story on Marketplace (an American Public Media economic news radio show) called “The high price of cloud computing.” It is an excellent reminder that all of this technology stuff that we use, as convenient and exciting as it is, does have an energy cost. While we see some of these costs in our electricity, Internet, and cell phone/data plan bills, we don’t always think about the big picture costs. Cloud computing, for example, has led to a huge increase in server farm capacity. Server farms are huge buildings where companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo store the servers that hold all of the data (and sometimes backups of all of the data) that we save into cloud-based services. While many of these companies are looking at ways to build more efficient and more environmentally friendly data centers, it’s still very much worth remembering that all of the technology we have access to has a very real, physical existence, in addition to its virtual cloud space. (Additional proof of this is the fact that California’s Silicon Valley has 29 EPA superfund sites, locations marked for cleanup because they pose a risk to human health and/or the environment. This is the highest concentration of superfund sites in the US and 19 of these sites are the result of electronics manufacturing.)

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