Discomfort » Endurance Challenge

2 minute read

Technology’s effect on energy consumption is a frequent topic of conversation at ITP. There’s an ITP Power Club the purpose of which is in part is to measure, monitor, and bring attention to contribution to the problem. We are after all, by the very nature of the program, conspicuous consumers of energy.

There are classes at ITP that deal with these questions directly as part of their curriculum. I’ve never taken one, but invariably one finds oneself confronted with some disturbing statistic or another just by virtue of interactions with the community.

Case in point, earlier in the semester Tom Igoe mentioned someone had calculated the environmental consequences were the global economy to transition to crypto currency … it turns out the world would burn from all the heat generated by the sheer computation required.

Then just today, while I was working on my endurance performance assignment, a fellow second year ITPer Adrian was plugging away on an assignment for his Socially Engaged Art and Digital Practice class. For every Netflix film we stream in 4K, Adrian told me, the streaming service consumes the equivalent of a bath tub of water to neutralize the heat generated to deliver that service. A tub of water for every film you watch in 4K. That’s pretty shocking in and of itself, to say nothing of what it entails at scale.

I recycle, sure. I use my own bags when shopping for groceries (made from recycled plastic bottles no less, don’t I deserve a pat on the back). I decline plastic utensils and other disposable paraphernalia when I order food to go, but these things hardly qualify as conscientiousness let alone activism. And furthermore, those are physical expressions of waste but I have zero appreciation for my own energy consumption, let alone the extent to which I actually waste it.

So with all that in mind, I tried to cobble together something that somehow brought attention to my own apathy. It’s not very well conceived I don’t think (I’m not very good at conceptual), it’s pretty mundane, and it lacks an element of participation, but the intention was to somehow make wasting energy impress itself in some physically and even better, lingering way.

My arm was indeed sore for the next 24 hours. Hardly transformative but it had about it at least a slight nagging quality.

I botched the timer at the start of the exercise but continued to run the dynamo on the Eton FR160 without stopping. Five minutes into the exercise I realized my screwup and recruited Adrian to adjust the timer and continue the countdown. At another point my multimeter powered off and Adrian was on hand to correct that fumble as well.

In retrospect, one way to make the performance participatory would be to set myself up as a human cell phone charging station, in which case the concept would probably be reframed as investing physical discomfort in order to help (in some minuscule sense) offset the environmental cost of energy consumption. Perhaps that’s the more meaningful exercise.