The prices of being too social 

Your data, air conditioned

How far back does online social media go? As far as the dawn of time if you’re under 20.

Everything you’ve ever texted, posted, liked, or commented still exists as a series of ones and zeroes somewhere in the world; probably in at least two locations, in fact.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, all this data is stored in data centres, essentially warehouses full of computers. The process of locating these data centres around the word is big business: countries and states often offer tax breaks and other incentives to the companies which build them. There are a few criteria in play here.

Availability of cheap power is one and climate is another – these things produce a lot of heat and it has to be dissipated somehow. But the most important consideration is geographical proximity of the data to the location of its use. Information which is required quickly and/or frequently is generally stored close to where it is needed.

People in Singapore don’t like to wait for their videos of kittens to come from the Arctic Circle; it might take half a second longer than if they come from a refrigerated server just down the road.

I downloaded my entire Facebook history this morning – just under 100MB. Do they really need to keep everything – forever?  I’m guessing most of it was dredged up from a server somewhere in northern Sweden, whilst my most recent posts and incisive comments probably came from much closer.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this; all that information is stored at a cost. I’m not so much worried about the financial cost. No, it’s the environmental cost that concerns me; all that unnecessary hot air. But of course, I do have a solution.

There is a lot of gratuitous babble on social media. Unless you’re on the Orient Express you don’t need to share a photo of your lunch with the world, or the view from the window. You don’t need to tell the world when you’re feeling a little off colour, or you’ve decided to take a ‘mental health day’ off work (especially if your boss is a ‘friend’). And if a person does that, it is not necessary for all of their ’friends’ then to respond with meaningless phrases such as “You go girl” or “You got this”, followed by a proliferation of exclamation marks and emojis.

And indulging in a long text-based conversation with your friend next door is just mad; go and talk in person, or phone them, at least then your words won’t have to be stored forever in some subterranean data reservoir. Let’s face it; most of what most of us say simply isn’t that important. Just look at anyone’s Facebook page, including mine, for proof of that.

By way of comparison, life pre-social media is usually compressed into a few photo albums, now stored on the bottom shelf of the book case behind the sitting room door. No cooling required.

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