Reduce your digital footprint

23rd Apr, 2023 | green

I recently wrote a blog post that described how the internet could be compared with a large country when it comes to its impact on the environment and climate change. The main focus was on the energy required to power such a gargantuan machine, and how we should move to more sustainable methods.

But energy is only one part of it.

Data is the heart of the internet. After all, it was primarily developed to share information so the internet is mostly data.

This data is rapidly expanding, and when I say "rapidly" that might be putting it too mildly.

"Exponential" or "at a terrifying rate" might be a better way to describe it. There are some sources reporting that over the last two years alone 90 percent of the data in the world was generated!

Data needs computers and devices to storage it on, which all either have an impact from the power they consume and from the materials they are made from.

If we reduce this data we will need less data centres, computers and storage devices.

Time for a digital de-clutter

This is a goal we can all contribute to. We first need to think about what data we have. Most of us will have some or all of these:

  • Emails + files attached to emails
  • Posts on social media + files attached to social media posts
  • Videos on Youtube
  • Comments on social media
  • Files and documents stored in the cloud, eg GoogleDocs, iCloud, Dropbox, etc
  • Accounts for services, eg things we subscribe to or buy things from
  • Data that services might have on you, that you don't see

We all have a responsibility to keep all of this as small as possible. I mentioned in a previous post the problem with "the cloud" is we don't see or care what is on it, and we see it as an infinite resource. We are given the impression we can store as much as we want and we don't have to think about how much we are storing or ever consider removing anything.

Imagine if you had a cupboard that could store an infinite amount of stuff. Would you ever consider tidying it or throwing anything out?

At the moment I am trying to retrain myself out of this way of thinking, and de-clutter my digital life.

You've got mail

Take email as an example. Some might think that email is heading towards extinction with the emergence of instant chats, but it's hard to ignore. Nearly all services you are going to sign up for need an email address, so it's a technology that is here to stay for the moment.

Account cleanup

The best place to start with de-cluttering email is look at your accounts. Do you have more than one email account? I know I have. Do you need all of them?

If you are sure you have accounts that are not used for any services, then the best thing you can do is delete the entire account. Then all of those emails, attachments and account data are gone.

Message cleanup

Next is reducing the number of stored emails. The approach I used was first deleting old emails. I found a way to filter emails older than 2 years and deleted all of them. Then I found "spammy" types of emails by sender and again filtered these and deleted them all.

Doing this makes you realise that the majority of emails we receive are notifications, and there is no reason at all to keep them. Messages to say someone uploaded something, posted something, liked something, wants something, it's all stuff we do not need to keep.

Probably a good time to also update all your services, so they don't send quite so many emails!

Rinse and repeat

These approaches can be used for all your other digital accounts and services. If you no longer need or use it then deleting the entire account is the best option. Otherwise, go into the account and try to find what you no longer need and remove it.

Get into the habit

After doing this process I have now changed the way I use services and email. For example, in the past I used to keep all my emails "just in case". Now I immediately delete most of my emails after reading them, which keeps my inbox sane and means I won't have to ever do a big purge again.