If you assume that the internet, blogosphere et al are complex systems, what might their waste be? And how might we “recycle” it better?
One of the many things I’ve learnt from Steven Johnson’s Ghost Map, is that waste recycling is a hallmark of almost all complex systems.
- Composting pits used in Knossos, Crete 4000 years ago.
- Medieval Rome built with much of the ruins of the Imperial City
- Manure spreading helped towns grow
This feedback loop transformed the boggy expanses of the Low Countries, which had historically been incapable of supporting anything more complex than isolated bands of fishermen, into the some of the most productive soils in all of Europe
- Modern day bottle, plastic, paper and other recycling methods.
Calcium is a waste product of all nucleated organisms. This is turned into e.g. bones, teeth
||Coral lives in symbiosis with an algae called zooxanthellae. This algae captures sunlight and turns CO2 into organic carbon. This process produces oxygen as a waste product, which the coral then uses in its own metabolic cycle. And that process produces nitrates, CO2, phosphates etc as waste products all of which are used by the algae.
One organism captures some energy from the sun, harvests it, but in the process produces waste, which then serves as a source of energy for another organism in the chain
At a more micro level, without the bacterial process of decomposition, we’d have been overrun by dead things years ago.
All of which had me wondering about internet waste.
The obvious waste is the hardware to support online life. Oxfam and others all work hard to recycle the motherboards, cables and chips that help us connect. But there’s still a huge amount left, and lots of that goes to China and the third world. [See e.g. the BBC ‘s Disposable Planet, or Salon’s article]
Then there’s the paper.
But most interesting, I thought, is what we do with all the old articles, thoughts, posts etc. I know I personally rarely look back over all the guff I’ve written. But I don’t particularly feel any qualms about leaving it up there. The amount of memory it all takes up is so small in the scheme of things I don’t really have to bother. That said, as things stand a lot of it is, if I’m honest with myself, waste. It may or may not have been at the time, but now, a few years on, it probably is.
So how best to recycle it? The easy way is just to delete it all. Alternatively, on the rainforest model, rather than delete everything, I could delete everything that had no comments/links to it. (As such, it would be much the same as an email retention policy)
I’m probably a little nostalgic for that. Part of me thinks that a yearly revisit to old posts might in itself be useful. (It’s amazing how much you can forget). And part, as I’ve said before, thinks that doing a social network analysis of your blog to look for structural holes could be instructive.
Anyroad, probably barking up the wrong tree … and perhaps in a few years time I might delete this …