Low-tech Magazine did a piece on how they had changed their content so it would be run on a totally off-grid solar-powered server at their office in Barcelona. They began by discussing the state of the internet:
. . . content is becoming increasingly resource-intensive. This has a lot to do with the growing importance of video, but a similar trend can be observed among websites. The size of the average web page (defined as the average page size of the 500,000 most popular domains) increased from 0.45 megabytes (MB) in 2010 to 1.7 megabytes in June 2018. For mobile websites, the average “page weight” rose tenfold from 0.15 MB in 2011 to 1.6 MB in 2018. Using different measurement methods, other sources report average page sizes of up to 2.9 MB in 2018.Also they link to this piece which provides more context, and develops the theme that due to bad programming, computers hardware has to race as fast as it can just to stay in place.
If we would remove video, tracking and surveillance crud, and intelligently compress our images, the internet could be maintained at a small fraction of its current energy and resource use. But this is a great example of wandism versus probablism. If we could wave a wand one time and make a bunch of web-sites in this manner, the internet would be more resilient. The question is whether we can get there from here. We are culturally conditioned to hate the idea of "going back," almost for any reason. I would say that people will clamor for video as long as possible, even if that crowds out investing in an internet that could work long-term.
And if I am going to raise questions about the internet's long-term viability, it seems that I might as well question whether printed books are sustainable. Well, can the world sustain printed books for ten billion people? Can it do so for three centuries, four centuries . . . a hundred centuries?
I'm okay with asking these questions, because I don't just blindly believe the neat narratives of the cult of progress (see John Michael Greer's one, two punch on the subject). I question the inevitability of progress that is just onward and upward to the stars, especially when I am told I best believe in it as the only justification for our existence and our problems.
There are those who believe that
The only sustainable level of technology is the Stone Age, and we are going to be there again someday, the only questions are: what’s going to be left of the world when we get there? Will humans even exist? When will this happen?I'm not so sure. Knowledge has a remarkable capacity to build on itself and grow, as long as ideas are spread and not just hoarded and hidden away. What I do know, and yet somehow many people can't know is that what is unsustainable will not last. So either we will one day find ways that can last, or we will bungle it and be worse off than what would have been theoretically sustainable.
I'm rooting for the internet, but my heart would be broken in a world without books. I love the old internet, and its spirit lives on in my The Best of the Free Internet document. Hyperlinks, and easy copying and pasting are fantastic technologies. The two important questions are: 1) Can those technologies add more value than they cost? 2) Can we organize systems that keep that value going?