Living on landfill: when will digital communications be sustainable?

digital landfill I spent a morning last week at Google UK Headquarters as part of a training session for SMEs. Their determination to get us posting more content and lots of content got me thinking about the basic problem with Google’s business model. Which is to get us to create more and more content – and specifically for marketers to do so to engage more customers.  2017 is designated video year. And we were told about the free app You Tube director which enables businesses to create promotional videos. And to upload our customer email lists so that more prospects can be identified and deluged with email. Google told us about hyper-personalisation which draws on everything known about a particular person to provide unique content.   How people are using our phones to find local information more than ever before. I asked a Google staffer why I was being made to write blogs around a single keyword to give anyone any chance of finding them. To which she replied that’s an SEO issue – we’re Adwords so we can’t comment. So Google siloes work autonomously and separately degrade the ecoystem. To get more and more content – and to dilute the ecosystem as they do so.

By 2020 90% of humanity are predicted to be online creating and uploading content a lot of it not particularly good.  And my question to Google would be Isn’t this just moving us further and further away from our customers?  Google’s business model is steadily clogging the world with data making it more and more difficult to get the attention of prospective customers. Unless we pay to jump to the front of the queue.  You may think there’s nothing wrong with that but the cumulative effect of making it easier and easier for more and more people to upload is that marketing costs are going to rise – effectiveness is going to fall. And environmentally the internet is going to become a less and less attractive place to spend time. Because you can’t find what you want and you get deluged with sales pitches many of them fraudulent. Is this what is going to bring Google down? People will just vote with their off button? Google are aware of this – I heard a talk last year from a Google staffer entitled How not to create more digital landfill. But the message was still the same – build more stuff and keep doing it.

london pea soup fogsBy the end of the 1950s the pollution from fossil fuels had become so bad in London that people had to wear respirators to be able to breathe when walking through fogs so thick they were called peasoupers.  Thousands died prematurely because of the pollution. So fossil fuels were banned, the buildings scraped from all of the soot. And London emerged into the clean city it is now. I can’t see any sign that our tech brands are trading sustainably by making communications more straightforward. Its an arms race towards a zero sum game.  In the Philippines people scratch a living from rubbish mountain. Is this the future of the internet – where everything can be found but you have to dig through acres of rubbish to find what you want?  I just took delivery of the latest Samsung smartphone (not one of the exploding ones).Cleverer and faster than any phone I have previously owned but isn’t it just a £600 spade for moving digital material around in my local space? It can make and circulate images and films at higher resolution than any of the video cameras and SLRs I have ever owned. But has it solved any problems or is it part of the problem? Adding more landfill of its own in industrial quantities?

Aberfan - the colliery spoilt tip that killedThis isn’t an ethical objection. Its more a lifestyle one. Is this how we want to live and provide products and services to customers? Do we want to spend our lives pushing digital landfill around with ever shinier spades? Maybe the next wave of automation means that we’re going to leave the internet to our automated agents and servants will have to do all the grubbing around for us? Making the internet an even less human place? Either way this seems to point towards environmental degradation not enhancement. Human beings shuffle off their mortal coil. At least after 70 years we’re taken off the system. But data has a habit of sticking around.  Perhaps to be sustainable data will have to be destroyed or wiped after a certain number of years  just to make the system viable and pleasant to use. This week we have had the anniversary of the Aberfan disaster when corporate negligence turned into mass tragedy. Are today’s corporates being as culbably negligent today?

I am engaged in an experiment to use these digital tools to build content that I think is insightful and useful for business people. But I am recognising that in doing so I am becoming a polluter – supposing we had to take down something for every megabyte that we put up?  I will persist for now but I am becoming uneasy -is this the world I really want to be building? Digital landfill isn’t a place I want to live in and work on.


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