Computers set to destroy the earth

Well, not quite, but if Nick Carr can come over all sensationalist then so can I. Nick takes the fine art of guesstimation to dizzy new heights in looking at the potential environmental impact of Second Life:

So, on a daily basis, overall Second Life power consumption equals:

(4,000 x 250 x 24) + (12,500 x 120 x 24) = 60,000,000 watt-hours or 60,000 kilowatt-hours

Per capita, that’s:

60,000 / 12,500 = 4.8 kWh

Which, annualized, gives us 1,752 kWh. So an avatar consumes 1,752 kWh per year. By comparison, the average human, on a worldwide basis, consumes 2,436 kWh per year. So there you have it: an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they’re in the same ballpark.

Never mind that his figures are almost certainly crazy wrong (SL servers aren’t just dedicated to individual avatars, avatars owners PCs could be turned on anyway, and wrong number of servers according to the comments); its great that people are thinking about this type of thing more and more. We’re so used to thinking of power consumption as being a direct result of our immediate actions (driving, throwing things away, etc.) that its easy to think of the impact of computing as the running of the box on your desk. But online activites incur an embodied cost of running servers too. Or as Nick rightly says:

… avatars aren’t quite as intangible as they seem. They don’t have bodies, but they do leave footprints.

Previously on thoughtwax: Linutop: less is more, The environmental impact of thin client systems.

— 07 Dec 2006