The hidden cost of unawareness

The hidden cost of media use is a relatively new area of interest. It seems like every day I’m discovering the true extent to which everyday items, digital and material, are derived from exploitation of the Global South and environmental damage. Lessening one’s impact on our earth is possible once you become aware this. But that’s the challenge we privileged folk face – lack of awareness.

I recently started going through all the data on my Dropbox account, the context being that I am hyper aware of the surveillance economy our Internet is currently in and I did not want my personal files in a walled garden. The environmental impact of my digital life was far from my mind. Turns out that’s another reason to empty our clouds.

When we visualise digital clouds, they seem separate from the earth, floating above us. In reality, digital clouds are very heavily tied to the earth. In fact, we dig deep into the earth to find the the ‘rare earth’ minerals required to enable our clouds to even exist at all (Dreher 2015, Notley & Reading 2013).

Image of ‘clouds’.

‘Rare earth’ mining in China

Maxwell & Miller (2012) argue that consumption is at the centre of the issue. The amount we consume data is directly related to the amount of energy required to uphold server farms that hold our digital property. We also live in a ‘cult of the new and cool’, whereby our mentality around technology is to always upgrade and dispose of the old (Maxwell & Miller 2012).

One of Facebook’s server farms, an example of the environmental impact of holding onto data.

In order to challenge and minimise the environmental impact of our media use is to reinvent the way we think about consumption. Considering we are in an age of disposability, perhaps we can transform that thinking into disposing the need for constant updates and release ourselves from the hoarding of digital files.


Dreher, T. 2015. The Hidden Cost Of Media Use, lecture, BCM310, University of Wollongong, viewed 20/04/2015.

Maxwell, R. & Miller, T. 2012. ‘Introduction’ in Greening the Media, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-20.

Notley, T & Reading, A. 2013. Rare earths and our insatiable appetite for digital memory, The Conversation. Accessed 20/04/2015, available at:

About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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