söndag 13 november 2016

When good intentions are not enough (article)

I have recently written about three papers I submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2, #3), but I in fact also submitted a fourth paper to the conference. This paper is the outcome of a process of repurposing and refocusing a previously presented conference paper for the purpose of broadening and deepening the reasoning in the paper and for extending it into a longer journal paper.

Here's the background: The earlier work in question is my (2016) ICT4S best paper-nominee "Designing for sustainability: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?". The previous paper was based on work by two former bachelor's students of mine and the case used in the paper builds on their work. As the work is now further developed, their contribution becomes a smaller and I instead have a new co-author, Oliver Bates. I have in fact already written a blog post about the curious way in which he was "recruited" as a co-author of this new, emerging paper. Oliver wrote an excellent review of the ICT4S article and I sent out overtures to this (to me, at the time) unknown reviewer some time after the conference was held.

This is, with the exception of organizing a workshop together, the first time me and Oliver work together and I very much look forward to it! He has done work on displays and in his review he suggested the work should be extended to public displays. I had not really thought about this (e.g. the use of non-private displays), but it is fortunately (and not so coincidentally) something that Oliver knows some about.

I met Oliver two weeks ago at the NordiCHI conference and we reserved an extended (two-hour) lunch to discuss and hash out the basic arguments we will put forward in the upcoming article (should it be accepted to the conference). Later (kind of like one day before the deadline on November 4) we hashed out the 300-word abstract below.

When good intentions are not enough: How energy-stingy screen technologies can lead to higher consumption

Authors: Daniel Pargman and Oliver Bates

Keywords: Screen technologies, Sustainability Suboptimisation, Systems thinking

AbstractDigital screens and displays are nowadays everywhere. From small screens in our smartphones and cars to huge billboard style displays whose size is measured in square meters. For people living in affluent countries screens and displays are in our hands, at our bus stops, exist in multitudes in our homes and are likely to be within arms reach at this very moment.

New OLED screens have the potential to save significant amounts of energy compared to their LED predecessors and much more compared to the older CRT and LCD screens. Whilst OLED screens harbour the promise of significant energy savings, how does this play out if we widen the system boundaries? How do we realise and how do we position the promised energy savings of the screens when they are but one component of a larger ecology of interlinked technical system (devices, infrastructure, data traffic etc.) and complex manufacturing processes? New technologies furthermore often come with various caveats. For OLED displays, energy savings are realised primarily when black is displayed on the screen but most webpages (and word processors etc.) use white as background and the potential savings can then in fact turn into losses.

We argue that when considering the environmental impact of innovative, energy-saving ICTs, the allure is to replace old devices at an accelerated pace. However, the energy savings alone do not come anyway near offsetting the energy cost of manufacturing these new devices.Just as “perfect can be the enemy of good”, we here argue that sometimes innovation (and marketing) can be the enemy of good enough. Finally and taking the rapid proliferation of screens into account, we cannot but ask if all the current uses of screens really make sense (e.g. restaurant menus, displaying static or slow changing content)?

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