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Digital Global Warming

Throughout history, creation and consumption of goods have resulted in the problem of waste. Today, our most valued goods are digital, and we are producing an enormous amount of “invisible” digital waste.

The 50th Earth Day has just passed but it was special in that it occu­rred in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this pandemic has to be urgently dealt with, the world is ­already immersed in a more long-standing crisis of global warming. It is interesting to see many commentators who have explicitly tied these two together in a larger narrative of how unthought ­exploitation of nature has major consequences for ­human communities. However, there is another lurking crisis waiting to happen in a replay of the earlier climate crisis. This crisis is catalysed by our addiction and immersion into the digital world, a phenomenon that we see as being quite similar to global warming. We refer to this phenomenon as “digital global warming.” This term ref­lects a state of living in an uncontrolled smog of digital waste, digital data and exhaust generated by technologies of today. Just as the by-products of industrialised societies, like the exhaust from cars, have contributed to global climate warming, the by-products of using ­billions of digital devices and applications are ushering us into the era of digital global warming.

The cause and effect of the invisible digital by-product that accompanies every digital transaction can be understood through the framework of waste. There are many types of by-products ranging from human sewage, automobile exhaust and invisible chemicals, which have seeped into the air and earth, that constitute waste. Human civilisation could well be a chronology of how we produce, and then manage, waste. But waste is not merely dirty or something to be discarded; it ultimately defines the character of our societies. For instance, the existence of physical waste produces ideas of cultural waste that make societies reject comm­unities within themselves. From early attempts at managing human sewage to managing air, and water pollution today, the degree of social progress is defined by the response to waste. Although ­hidden and invisible, waste can affect us globally in terrible ways: it causes medical epidemics, poisons the air, makes water undrinkable, and contributes to physical and mental disorders. One can even argue that naturally occurring coronavirus strains are the result of poor handling of waste in wet markets (as
in COVID-19) and other human–animal ­interaction points (such as in H1N1 and avian flu).

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Updated On : 8th Jun, 2020

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