To Decarbonize We Must Decomputerize: Why We Need a Luddite Revolution

Confronting the climate crisis will require something more radical than just making data greener. That’s why we should put another tactic on the table: making less data. We should reject the assumption that our built environment must become one big computer. We should erect barriers against the spread of “smartness” into all of the spaces of our lives. To decarbonize, we need to decomputerize.

Decomputerization doesn’t mean no computers. It means that not all spheres of life should be rendered into data and computed upon. Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people.

The zero-carbon commonwealth of the future must empower people to decide not just how technologies are built and implemented, but whether they’re built and implemented.

Read more: To Decarbonize, We Need to Decomputerize: Why We Need a Luddite Revolution. Via Roel Roscam Abbing.

Food Security in the West

“It might seem alarmist, even tasteless, to mention food security in the West when we appear to be enjoying the greatest era of abundance in history. Food security is something we tend to associate with the developing world, and considering how many people worldwide face starvation every day, worrying about our own food supply seems almost obscene… On the face of it, the modern food industry seems to have solved the problem of food supply. Far from waiting anxiously at the quayside to see whether our ship will come in, there is now so much food swilling about in Western cities that most of us are more likely to die of obesity than hunger.”

“What could possibly go wrong? The short answer is: just about everything… Supermarkets supply us with 80 per cent of our food in Britain… Contrary to appearances, we live as much on a knife-edge now as did the inhabitants of ancient Rome or Ancien Régime Paris. Cities in the past did their best to keep stocks of grain in reserve in case of sudden attack; yet the efficiencies of modern food distribution mean that we keep very little in reserve. Much of the food you and I will be eating next week hasn’t even arrived in the country yet. Our food is delivered ‘just in time’ from all over the world: hardly the sort of system to withstand a sudden crisis.”

Quoted from: Hungry City: How Food Shapes our Lives. Carolyn Steel, 2013. Image: Packaged food aisles in an Oregonian hypermarket. Lyzadanger/Dilliff (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Art of Indexing Your Paper Notes

“One of the biggest advantage of electronic documents has always been that they’re easy to search. Good ol’ Ctrl-F has probably saved millions of hours since its invention. But what if you’d rather have something on paper, but you still need to be able to search it? I don’t have a keyboard and a little display in the front of my notebooks, but I do have an index, and in a large number of cases it works nearly as well.”

“The index seems like a lost art nowadays with so many references moving online. Maybe that’s not so surprising: making a generally good index is quite difficult and historically has been a profession, and there’s actually an organization called the American Society of Indexers. But if you just want to help yourself find stuff when you put it away in your notebook or binder, it couldn’t be easier to start an index.”

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There is No Such Thing as Absolute Progress

“We need to be aware of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute progress, that every time we add something to our world, we take something away as well. It’s the Eastern notion of balance, of yin and yang, at play: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. Life does not by definition only get better when someone invents a new phone or car or facial cream, even if that phone makes it easier to talk to someone thousands of miles away, or the car makes it easier to go see people, or get away from them, or the cream dissolves wrinkles like magic. It doesn’t work like that. We pay a price: for everything we add, we lose something. The question then becomes: what do we value most. But that’s a question we never ask: we see everything new as an addition to our lives, and ignore what gets taken away from us.”

Quoted from: The Price We Pay For Progress, The Automatic Earth.

Reveal the Infrastructure

Designer Gauthier Roussilhe:

“People seem to be living in a techno-fantasy dream. Mostly because they don’t understand the infrastructure on which it is relying. Eventually, the physical world with its energy limits and planetary boundaries will catch up with these dreams. I’ve been dedicating a lot of time in conferences and workshops explaining to people why autonomous cars will not be possible. Once you open the black box and reveal the infrastructure, people understand what is behind their dreams. You can break the spell, even in the French start-up scene.”

Read more: Can you design a website on a (very) limited energy budget? An interview with Gauthier Roussilhe, We Make Money Not Art.

Web Bloat Score Calculator

Most people are probably aware that image files, as a rule, are bigger than plain text files. Yet, as the Web Bloat Calculator website explains, one of the weird things about the way websites have evolved is that their text is frequently so overloaded with superfluous (hidden) coding that they actually consume more energy than they would if the pages were presented solely in image form (ie, if a screenshot was taken of the webpage, and that was what was displayed when people looked up the webpage, rather than the original text). Such code bloat tends to build up in layers over the years and can lead to frenetic, and almost completely meaningless, exchanges of information between servers and browsers.

Web Bloat Score Calculator. Quoted from: Our Lighter Website, feasta.