It’s a bit unfashionable to talk about last year’s New Year’s resolution at the end of the year, when we’d rather gaze starry-eyed at the novel hopes we have for the year ahead. I (like everyone) am a chronic breaker of resolutions, and was right on track to do it again in 2016 until my 21 month old did an amazing last minute save on my long forgotten 2016 resolution.
I was doing horrible on my resolution from the start. I’d fully intended to research and write a post on it back in December 2015, and got so far as starting to save some pictures, but ran out of time. The plan for 2015 was to take stock of (and reduce) my digital carbon footprint by going around to all the random websites and email accounts that I’d junked up with words and photos during my 18 or so years on the Internet, and delete all the stuff that was up in the cloud, taking up space that needs to be powered, air conditioned, and transmitted–all for the sake of my NEVER accessing it.
But… of course this takes time, just like de-cluttering a real house, but without the low-grade exercise component. And I already spend a lot of hours on the computer,and worry about how this affects my kids. So the resolution was left unresolved.
Interestingly, there also doesn’t seem to be tremendous agreement on how large the carbon footprint of our cloud-dependent digital world is. Some claim that the iphone and the cloud network it draws upon uses as much energy each year as a refrigerator. Others have rebutted this claim. Increasingly, companies like Facebook and Apple purchase renewable energy to run (or to offset the actual energy that runs) their server centers. Kudos to Greenpeace for actually analyzing the energy profile of the servers used by various corporations in this 2015 report. There also also obvious energy and environmental savings involved with the transition to digital media– according to this website, streaming video over the cloud is significantly more energy efficient than the old DVD-model of production. Of course, this all gets into how you do your lifecycle analysis. One thing is certain, the anonymous buildings where our data is housed are in some way sad physical artifacts of the joy of the digital age.
What is clear is that much of the content that I personally have online is unproductive clutter. Pictures that I printed 10 years ago on Shutterfly, or at CVS.com, are still there years later. Kudos to Dropbox, which had the wisdom to actually close my account after I went 2 years without using it (and not without substantial advance warning). I would like to see more common-sense policies like this in place.
So… back to how the baby saved the New Years Resolution…. I’ve had the same Yahoo email account for 16 years. And, after 16 years there were probably something close to 10,000 emails in my Inbox, many of them unread commercial email. One night in November, my husband was out of town and I was trying desperately to feed myself dinner. I handed my iphone over to the 21 month old while he was in his high chair so I could shovel salad into my mouth. The 21 month old went crazy with his thumbs… LOTS of button pushing, wild swiping to the left and right.
When he handed the phone back over and I checked my yahoo email, I was amazed to find the inbox was empty. One email came through, and for the first time in… 16 years? there was just ONE email in my inbox. Well, thought I, I’m sure they’re somewhere, and I’ll see ’em all when I log in on my computer. But when I logged into the webmail application that night, there were only four emails in my inbox. In one sitting at the dinner table, the baby did what would have taken me months, YEARS of effort.
Were pictures lost? Yes. Will I never have your address again? Yes. But a month on, I haven’t missed those emails yet.
Will we double down in 2017 and actually clean out the CVS and Shutterfly accounts? Totally. The baby’s on it.