Given a lot of the popular perception—and historical rhetoric—about the Internet, it would seem unlikely that anything as material as cold water would have anything to do with it. But as Biello argues (as do recent videos like the one above, books, and my final chapter), despite digital dreams of disembodiment, the Internet exists in a very physical world. And, also importantly, Biello writes:
The ethereal world of the Web has a very real physical presence. Behind every Google search, Facebook update, or Twitter tweet lies a gigantic computing infrastructure, at the heart of which sit massive server farms that collectively account for some 230 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — more than emitted by the entire country of Argentina. Air-conditioning can consume as much as half the total power that digital giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and IBM need to run their huge server facilities, and these are growing rapidly.
One solution is to move to a place that’s already cold. Naturally cold air and, better yet, cold water, can result in significant energy savings. Locations for server farms are being explored across the far north, from Alaska to Iceland.
The more we understand about the physical underpinnings of the digital world, the better we can both respond to climate-threatening problems like the ones Biello describes.
And, I would add, the more openly and honestly we can confront the ways that the internet does not offer an automatic, disembodied respite from seemingly corporeal problems like racism, sexism, and xenophobia. The Mentor’s dream is not reality.