What got me started thinking about this most recently was testing Spotify mobile, for Android and iPhone. The high quality streaming service means users needn’t carry their music collections around on their devices, just open Spotify and listen to whatever they want. I find it hard to believe that streaming all that data is an efficient way to listen to music.
Old heavy industry has a poor environmental image, but do new high tech industries do much better? We don’t imagine smoke stacks and poisoned lakes etc when we think of web 2.0 (or 2.1, 3.0…), but is there any evidence this industry thinks about the future of the planet any more than the old industries?
With the Spotify mobile apps one thing becomes quickly obvious – streaming to your phone hits your battery, much more than listening to your personal library would.
I have a contact who works with design sustainability in the UK, and after a short discussion about Spotify, his answer was unequivocal: “Digital streaming has the look of another clever technology that is not good for us“.
In essence it’s because when consuming media ‘locally’, you only have to download it once, and can then access it as many times as you want, only using the energy of that one device. But with streaming services, every time you access media you are consuming more energy in the sending and receiving of information, the server running at the other end and your device too. That uses more energy.
We are supposed to be cutting our energy consumption dramatically over the next decade, and yet are developing new technologies that are obviously less energy efficient. I’m picking on Spotify because it’s new – video services like Voddler would undoubtedly be worse, and any streaming service is essentially wasteful. These services are convenient, and people love what they can do, but shouldn’t convenience be secondary to sustainability? The idea of downloading content that is then “thrown away” immediately after use is dreadful, after all.
I read many tech blogs daily, and the environment is basically off the radar, as if it’s not their concern. It is everyone’s concern: if sustainability and energy efficiency aren’t part of your development and design decisions in the 21st Century, you are designing irresponsibly.