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The Atlantic | 12.16.15

The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge

Ingrid Burrington

CC BY 2.0 licensed photo by Eric Hunsaker.

D&S Artist in Residence Ingrid Burrington contemplates network infrastructure, underlining the fact that today’s infrastructure can’t last much longer under the strain of exponentially expanding connectivity demands. She suggests that the tech industry will soon have to face long-term questions concerning time, maintenance, and scale.

The impact of data centers—really, of computation in general—isn’t something that really galvanizes the public, partly because that impact typically happens at a remove from everyday life. The average amount of power to charge a phone or a laptop is negligible, but the amount of power required to stream a video or use an app on either device invokes services from data centers distributed across the globe, each of which uses energy to perform various processes that travel through the network to the device. One study(weirdly enough, sponsored by the American Coal Association, its purpose to enthuse about how great coal is for technology) estimated that a smartphone streaming an hour of video on a weekly basis uses more power annually than a new refrigerator.


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