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Cyber-Waste examines the environmental and social harms brought about by digital technology and its infrastructures. It argues there is no substantive distinction between the real and the so-called digital, and that the waste effects of cyber-waste are accumulative yet hidden.

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The digital promises a world that is cleaner, slicker, sharper and less tarred with the carbon intensity of our industrial past and present. At a time of rapidly unfolding climate change, and an increasingly ubiquitous acknowledgement of the need to curb emissions and build green infrastructure, this seems welcome. Decoupling economic and social activity from fossil fuels and extracting ourselves from the dirty trails of plastics and hydrocarbons by furthering the digital revolution and mediating life through cyberspace goes hand in hand with a low emissions regime. Central to making this possible is a green energy transition, which shifts from reliance on burning carbon to a more sustainable future, of harvesting energy from the sun and the wind, amongst other sources. And alongside cleaner production is the need for new, clean ways to create and store energy.

This is where lithium comes in. The periodic table’s third element and first metal, lithium’s lightness and energy density makes it a vital component in batteries. It is used in the production of all major smartphones, and is crucial to electric vehicles becoming the mainstream choice of private transport rather than a niche exercise in status signalling. The global lithium ion (Li-ion) battery market is expected to reach $100.4bn by 2025, compared to a market size of $30.2bn in 2017[1]. Over half of the Li-ion market in this period is expected to be used for the automotive market. Within consumer electronics, mobile phones are expected to be the largest application for these batteries.[2]
However, the processes that produce this clean, green and sustainable future are often anything but. As with other rare earth material, like copper and cobalt, that provide the ingredients for digital infrastructure, the practices involved in the production of white oil[3], lithium’s slick nickname, are rife with environmental and social harms that are conveniently overlooked in the marketing and promotion of the renewable futures they facilitate.

The techniques of extracting earth materials to fuel energy regimes differ from source to source. Each comes with its own particularities and leaves its own traces on the earth, environment and people involved. It has been argued that capital perpetually seeks cheaper labour and cheaper nature, and energy regimes are no different.[4] Yet the different techniques and pathways of extraction, production, processing and distribution often reveal certain political relationships and possibilities. The weak and widely dispersed solar energy reaped from cutting down trees and burning wood created vastly different power regimes to those created by the ‘buried sunshine’ of coal and oil, which concentrated and decentralised energy networks respectively.[5]

One area of particular interest in the clamour for renewable energy is Chile, and its neighbouring Andean regions in Bolivia and Argentina. Estimates vary, but the so-called lithium triangle is said to hold at least 50% of the world’s lithium[6], much of it relatively easy to access owing to the brine pools of the Atacama desert and its surrounding arid areas. Lithium itself rarely occurs freely in nature, but appears as compounds, commonly obtained from ores and brines. Ores are more concentrated in lithium but more energy intensive to extract (it's actual mining) whereas brines you just pump out and leave to dehydrate. In fact, the naturally-occurring lithium-rich brines the Salar de Atacama mean that lithium is harvested rather than mined, in a ‘process that is more akin to agriculture than a classic extractive process or an industrial process of transforming raw material into a finished product (Bustos-Gallardo et al, 2021)’.[7]

The ‘fields’ of lithium, otherworldly, placid and picturesque turquoise and green brine pools, paint a very different picture to those of coal mining or oil speculating, yet belie a sophisticated and grim nexus of extraction and exploitation in Chile. The vast quantities of water needed to pump to the surface is swallowing up water from the edges of the desert, where rural, agrarian and communitarian indigenous communities live and rely on the little water there is.[8] Satellite research shows an inverse correlation between water reservoir levels at mining ponds and the ‘natural’ lagoons upon which local ecological systems depend, resulting in widespread habitat destruction.[9]

The effects of extractive infrastructure don’t just affect the surrounding ‘natural’ ecosystems, but also social systems, such as the economic structures of lithium mining. As Thea Riofrancos puts it, ‘the margins of the world systems are far from backwards, but sites of novel techniques of exploitation’.[10] For example, the status and conditions of mining work itself. Martín Arboleda has written about how the share of subcontracted workers in Chile’s mining industry has risen hugely since the 1970s, from virtually zero to over 60%.[11]
The make up of this group of informal and precarious workers, known locally as faneros, tend to ‘come from various locations on a temporary basis, have no attachments to the host town, are usually underpaid, and face overcrowded accommodations. As a result, social ills that were uncommon before the commodity boom, such as sex work, theft, street fights, drug abuse, and sexual assaults, are now common’.[12] This is not so much the case for the higher status engineers and managers who work in lithium mining, who tend to live in Santiago or other Latin American capitals cities, and stay in luxury hotel campsites when visiting the mines.

Sub Contractor Miners, Chile, 1975-2004

The social hierarchies are a reflection of industrial policy. Two private firms, Albemarle and SQM, are the only entities currently exploiting brines for lithium production in the Salar de Atacama, with permission and license from the state. In the case of SQM, Julio Ponce Lerou, a former son-in-law of the dictator Augosto Pinochet, acquired 93% of the state’s shares - at very favourable price - in the company during its privatisation in the 1980s under the military dictatorship and even today is the company’s primary shareholder. The white collar workers and engineers live in the cities, and with access to international investors, indigenous communities endure assaults on their agro-pastoralist practices and local environment alongside the precarious, often undocumented, mine workers.[13] These domestically held tensions are still locked in to international markets and capital; volatility in price of lithium as a commodity has knock on ramifications at home.

The story of lithium in Chile is important and instructive for how the energy transition and transfer to renewables may unfold. Most of the world’s hard rock reserves of lithium are in Australia and China, although deposits elsewhere, including discoveries in Portugal [14] and Cornwall[15], England, are expected to come online in the coming years. Chile is the world’s second largest producer, however, and the largest of the lower-cost brine reserves. It is interesting that Chile, as a critical nexus in the supply of one of the new economy’s most in-demand yet commercially volatile resources, has become a site of cyber-waste. The shape of Chilean mining industry infrastructures – from the displacement amid protests of indigenous people and effects on local ecologies through to its impact on local urban economies – reflects an internationally familiar process of ‘flexible’ labour and economic coordination through private capital and supply chain management. If a transition to a renewable and sustainable energy future is to be designed for the greatest benefit, these harms need addressing.


1  Statista (2021), link

2  Statista (2010), link

3  Balch O (2020), The Curse of White Oil; electric vehicles’ dirty secret, Guardian, link

4  Patel R and Moore J (2018), A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, link

5  Mitchell T (2009), Carbon Democracy, link

6  Ahmad S (2020), The Lithium Triangle: Where Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia Meet, Harvard International Review, link

7  Bustos-Gallardo B, Bridge G, Prieto M (2021), Harvesting Lithium: water, brine and the industrial dynamics of production in the Salar de Atacama, Geoforum 199, link

8  Arboleda M (2020), Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction Under Late Capitalism, Verso, link

9  Heubl B (2019), Lithium firms depleting vital water supplies, analysis suggests, link

10  Riofrancos T (2020), Seize and Resist, The Baffler, link

11  Arboleda M (2020), Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction Under Late Capitalism, Verso, link

12  Arboleda M (2020), Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction Under Late Capitalism, Verso, link

13  Bustos-Gallardo B, Bridge G, Prieto M (2021), Harvesting Lithium: water, brine and the industrial dynamics of production in the Salar de Atacama, Geoforum 199, link

14  Wise P (2020), ‘Lithium fever’ grips Portugal as mining project raises hackles, Financial Times, link

15  BBC (2020), Cornwall lithium deposits ‘globally significant’, link




The net is a complex of computers, devices and [increasingly] organisms connected via a global communications network. The web is all the info you consume from pages you see when you are online… like this one.

Your experience of digital space is figured by what you access it through: the thing you, carry, cradle, and caress. Remember this as you explore and remember to look up when you cross the road.

Here, we have created a web archive. On its PCs and devices, you can see some cherry-picked examples of the changing nature of Internet expression through time.

Web pages, memes, comments, articles, blogs and so on are crafted in the physical realm. They are intrinsically linked to the devices on which they are produced. Forgetting the hardware and software that mediates our interaction with the web is like trying to understand woodwork without a knowledge of chisels, saws and drills.


This link

Takes us to a slideshow, buried somewhere in the Oslo University web server. The PDF, entitled “Generativity : Supporting innovation” defines the term “generative” as:

“A system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.”

Found in the footnote of a Wikipedia page on the topic of generativity, one imagines the anonymous university lecturer had no intention of this PDF becoming a broadly disseminated piece of web content, even the opening quotation of a short essay on internet creativity. But here we are, and with us we have as good an illustration of net generativity as any other.

From foundational open source code[1] to cat video, human activity powers the digital world. Whether that content is base, amoral, beautiful, helpful, evil, illegal or irrelevant is itself irrelevant.

Open the bonnet of a BMW and you are presented with an impenetrable polycarbonate shell. Your relationship with this technology is didactic - you do what it allows. You have no place under the hood, no need to understand or tinker with the mechanics. Curiosity comes with a health warning, you are told. Just sit back, relax and drive.

A bicycle is the opposite. There is no hiding its works and, if so inclined, you can quite quickly understand its assemblies and sub assemblies. As a technology it invites participation, adaptation, repair, augmentation.

The social web began as a bike, but its mechanics are now encased within the HTML equivalent of thick polycarbonate. We are all told we are the creators of social experiences online, when in fact we are restricted consumers of refined and addictive social products. This trend will only amplify as more of the world accesses the network through cheap mobile devices on zero-rated platforms peddled by the joint ventures of platforms and device producers.

However, like all naturally occurring phenomena, the genotypical and phenotypical nature of web content has evolved dramatically by adapting to external influences. These are the rise of closed box, centrally managed internet enabled appliances, private monolithic platforms, meddling nation states and the armies of engineers, marketeers and artificial intelligences they employ.

From the tinkerer-oriented, flexible, crashy, open modalities of the original personal computers, to the never-freeze-always-on distraction engines: what content is created online has changed as the modes through which it is consumed have too.

In 2006 Jonathan Zittrain predicted, warned against and proposed ways around the potentially deleterious future pathway of the net. He ported the term generativity from psychoanalysis and used it to describe the creative force of the internet. In naming the phenomenon, Zitrain was hoping to protect against it. Back in the early 2000s he feared the rise of simplified network connected devices, known as “internet appliances”. These appliances would limit and simplify how internet media was consumed and created, commonly under the pretence of consumer ease and choice. He was concerned that the proliferation of these devices would destroy network generativity and put the fundamental ecosystemic premises of the network itself at risk.[2]

The iPhone is the canonical example of a “closed box” internet appliance; so too is a consumption oriented application such as Netflix. Within these appliances, the modalities of consumption and production are strictly limited to a set of values defined, designed, ordered, updated and controlled by a central entity. More often than not the value systems of that entity are market share, attention regulation and profit.

“One vital lesson from the past is that the endpoint matters,” Zittrain wrote. “Too often, a discussion of the Internet and its future stops just short of its endpoints, focusing only on the literal network itself: how many people are connected, whether and how it is filtered, and how fast it carries data. These are important questions, but they risk obscuring the reality that people’s experiences with the Internet are shaped at least as much by the devices they use to access it.”[3]

In short, the more restricted our access to the internet becomes, through devices and platforms, and the more apathetic or anaesthetised the general public is about this, the more the internet will become a tool for consumption, distraction and corporate fiscal and social hegemonies rather than the site for education, openness, emancipation, resistance and creativity that it could be.

As the internet has proliferated in more corners of life, so life has textured and coloured the experience of the internet. The net is not quite a mirror but an immense and ever changing Bruegellian tapestry of human culture: a sublime and detailed rendition of a particular story. It is naive to imagine that this story would be totally rosy. Criticism of the web that focuses solely on its harms (bullying, racism, spam, revenge porn and so on) fails to acknowledge its fundamental agnosticism. It is a tool, not an agent.

Like the works of Bruegel, the internet is phenomenologically complex. One can traverse myriad types and forms of content in a few clicks, taps, or swipes. The hierarchy of this experience is ordered by applications, algorithms, search, hyperlinks, metadata, fancy and fluke.

The vast quantity of content is now created and consumed within the confines of closed-box, non generative, internet appliances in the form of Youtube, Netflix and Facebook through devices that further confine its experiences mobile devices, watches, Alexas, fridges.

Zittrain’s warnings have come to pass. Together these platform and appliance giants order the modalities by which internet media is consumed and created. And because traffic through their spaces is so vast, they have to be extremely restricted by design. Openness, adaptability and augmentation would present vast structural security and maintenance issues and make the user base far harder to analyse,and thus control.

It is in this way that our interaction with the social net has become more BMW than bicycle.

The vast scale of market share is why all social media pages look the same. Gone are the days of tweaking the code of your myspace or Geocities site to more closely reflect your internet self. Now, all social interactions and pages have to conform to the organizational logics of a centrally planned system.

If the social spaces of the internet are to be perceived as architectures (and after all, the term architecture is commonly used in engineering), then the actual structure of the social net is incredibly monotone and banal - the only user-led alterations permitted by the centrally planned authorities are window dressing at most.

To many, this might not seem like a big deal. But when these platforms become the principal means of community expression, interaction and even business, there is a vast waste of potential in terms of expression and a vast gain in the value of the central organisation to figure those communities’ self-expression and activity. However anodyne and innocent the intention may be, reach of this extent must be called into question.

When the majority of information media is organised by a handful of companies, our experience of the internet is ordered, coloured and updated by the product teams of those companies. What is lost in that process? And as their presence proliferates to more corners of life (think Facebook portal, Google Home) our understanding of the potential of the internet is being shut out too. These appliances can only be used in highly specific ways for narrow ends. It's not a great issue if a company like Hoover becomes synonymous with suction, but what will it mean when Facebook is synonymous with the internet?

This might sound dystopian, but it is what Facebook is trying to do through its zero rated service Free Basics.

Free Basics is the platform's free service that aims to provide highly restricted but free internet access to consumers throughout the global south, particularly in Latin America, Africa and South East Asia. This extremely selective view of the world of online media is imperialist propaganda at an immense scale and has nothing to do with the power of the internet in changing the lives of the global poor. It is about the extension of corporate reach into previously untapped markets. Recently India's far reaching Net Neutrality legislation has rendered these highly restrictive “zero rated” services untenable, because of the limitations they enforce on the experience of the network, much to the chagrin of Facebook [see].

The collusion of media companies such as Facebook and infrastructure companies such as Airtel (in the case of India) is nothing new. This was seen in the 80s and 90s as TV era conglomerates partnered with telecoms companies and raced to monopolize the airwaves. There is no evidence to suggest that access to the internet is directly related to emancipation from economic or social ills particularly if that access is highly controlled and restricted [see the Global Voices report on Free Basics here].

A seemingly benevolent Silicon Valley firm offering highly restricted access to online services is no different to censorship and surveillance carried out by questionable political regimes. Their goals are shared: to further establish their position of power and use the social net to push a particular worldview as far as possible.

Free Basics, the product component of a corporate joint-venture called “” says it all.

The internet is not a force for anything in particular. It amplifies, funnels and augments, but it is not fundamental to resistance or freedom. As one Burmese law student during the current protests against the February 1 military coup put it:

"They make a huge mistake if they think people are motivated by the online communications. The passion is engraved in people's heart."[4]

But what of those hearts engraved more deeply by hate? There is certainly an internet for them too.

In our cities and public spaces, manifestations of action are being carried out by increasingly extreme sections of culture, fuelled by conversations online. From the Pizza Pingpong turned crime scene, fakenews rape riots, right up to the storming of the Capitol in 2021, we are seeing a proliferation of actions in the physical world that find their genesis or at least maintenance in digital space. Does the funneling of internet activity through certain channels and modes of interaction also engender certain kinds of action and network effects?

The lack of hierarchy within internet space means that the difference between grass roots and top down is increasingly meaningless too. Trump, through Twitter, can communicate on the same plane as the Proud Boys and both can “indirectly” collaborate to enact terror in political spaces of the city.The Black Lives Matter Movement gets slammed by the right wing press and in the hateful comments section while dictators learn their social media tactics from dissidents.

Disinformation races around Facebook pages and fuels political unrest in Myanmar (where at the time of writing all mobile access has been cut off by the recent military coup). Meanwhile in Russia, the Kremlin-funded Internet Research Agency employs thousands of professional trolls to intimidate, undermine and control its part of the networks, and in Belarus (as in many other states) "internet outages" are used to control the chatter during critical moments such as elections or coups.

We are coming to learn that the emancipatory power of the internet as a news source and force for political good becomes highly questionable, when its platforms can so easily disinform and their infrastructures are open to control by corporations and ruling elites. The internet is an extra-state operation, far from the social polis.

Regardless of your politics, righteous leftie comment streams, Qanon conspiracies, dark 4chan forums - all this is content too. And, as neural networks become commonplace in our experience of media online, it is more than fake news we are going to have to spot. Bring in the world of “fake whos” as our growing artificial intelligences begin to show us near perfect re-renderings of our words, our voices, our images, our celebrities and our leaders, further adding the non-human to the sublime confusion that the digital plays in our seemingly civic and human-centric lives. Perhaps though this increasing artifice will shed clearer light on this Brueghelian parallel and afford us a clearer view of the human outside of the machine.

End Notes

1  See
3 (pg 80)
4  Myanmar’s Internet Shutdown Is an Act of ‘Vast Self-Harm’:





Interview with Mini Cab drivers. (abridged)
Asking about the changes to the traditions of driving in the internet age
Circular journey around London.

Journey time = 6 hours
Start = Walworth Road
End = Tower Bridge

Audio interview (.mp3)

< 30mb

Captured by PR researchers




Cyber-Waste argues that there are hidden waste effects that emerge from digital technology and its infrastructures, and that these waste effects are often hard to see because of a persistent myth that the digital, the virtual, the informational, is somehow cleaner and less substantial than the physical, real, material world. In reality, infrastructures of a ‘digital’ economy are just as physical as the factory or the workshop, and their rise and ubiquity mean they consume a huge amount of energy and cause lots of pollution, like most industrial processes.

This does not mean that these processes are inherently bad. The way that lithium, copper, cobalt and other rare earth materials are currently extracted, the way that waste is accounted for in these processes, and who suffers as a result, are all cause for scrutiny. However, investing in sources and systems for digital technology, renewable energy and its storage is clearly of potential interest to everyone on earth, especially as it becomes impossible to justify continued carbon-based energy production if we are to keep global warming under 2°C. Similarly, the way data is currently acquired and governed is a cause for concern about concentration of power, and who stands to gain from the accumulation of data into these vast infrastructures. However, the promise of using big data to answer social questions and allocate resources more effectively is clearly of great interest.

It is harder to make this argument with cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular. Bitcoin was originally promised as a new form of digital currency. In 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote a white paper entitled ‘Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic system’. He outlined ‘a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash [which] would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution’.1 One of the key aspects of Bitcoin’s security is its Proof of Work algorithm, which confirms transactions that have taken place. Computers (or miners) compete with each other by solving complex computational problems (mining) to complete transactions on the network. They can then be rewarded with newly released tokens, such as Bitcoin, which can be used to pay for things, securely. Being able to extract new currency relies on computing power, known as mining.[2]

In reality, Bitcoin has not functioned as a new and disruptive peer to peer electronic currency at any great scale. It has functioned not as a cryptocurrency but as a cryptoasset, as its price volatility made it an attractive investment class in the wake of low growth elsewhere in the economy. As more and more people rush to acquire Bitcoin, the difficulty and complexity of the problems the computers need to solve grows. This is built into the design of the system. This has led to huge Bitcoin ‘farms’, with rows upon rows of servers solving computer problems to acquire Bitcoin, further pushing up the price of Bitcoin and further pushing up the network’s computational demands.

As Tim Swanson writes, ‘proof-of-work chains continue to consume resources in direct proportion to the underlying coin value’.3 These computational demands are staggering as is the accompanying energy consumption. Similar to data centres, the demands are not just power, but also water for cooling. This is also why Bitcoin farms tend to exist in countries with lower temperatures and cheap energy, more often than not powered by coal. For example, Xinjiang province in China accounts for about one third of Bitcoin generation, and despite many renewable energy systems in development, the majority of electricity in the province comes from coal.4 Bitcoin farms sometimes piggyback on public utilities, the losses (such as pollution and energy outages) are socialised, the gains accrued privately. In March 2021, a report in Joule by Alex De Vries concluded that the Bitcoin network could consume the same amount of energy as all data centres globally.5 The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index keeps track of the total electricity production and consumption of the Bitcoin network, and provides comparisons between Bitcoin network and nation states. At the time of publication, if Bitcoin were a country, it would consume 135.01 TW per year, more than either Sweden, Norway, Argentina, Ukraine or the United Arab Emirates.

However, the network creates waste and material dependencies beyond electricity consumption and carbon emissions. The computers required to solve puzzles and extract Bitcoin are specially made, and single use. They run for 18-24 months and, though a small number of them can be repurposed for parts, the vast majority are discarded, creating significant levels of often toxic eWaste. This is only discarded eWaste, not the waste created in the production process. In general, for electronic goods, over 50% of carbon emissions and 90% of total waste is generated in the upstream mining and production of a device, not in its discarding.6 The demand for computers that can mine for Bitcoin is affecting other computing industries as well. By 2017, cryptocurrency accounted for around 5% of global semiconductor demand, according to a presentation given by Chen Min, a chip designer at Avalon Mining.7 The global semiconductor shortage is exacerbated by demand for more advanced processing power as the price of Bitcoin increases, alongside the potential rewards accrued from mining them.8 A recent report has suggested that cryptocurrency miners are now creating shortages in the laptop market too, buying up stock for their GPU (Graphics Processing Units) and only using them for single use. ‘For the third time in less than five years, cryptocurrency mining has pushed GPU prices beyond all sanity’.9

The environmental waste of Bitcoin is not going away. Even advancements in processing power do not tend to lead to lower energy consumption: farms do not downsize but ‘replace aging hardware with newer ones: they must run faster in order to stay in the same place’.10 Or rather, Bitcoin mining will produce more environmental waste the higher its price goes. In her book about the development of ‘energy’ as a moral, western concept during the Industrial Revolution, Cara New Daggett writes that the original conception of energy is one that is productive, compared to unproductive leakage of waste. Energy was equated with work, waste with idleness.11 The legacy of putting fossil fuels to work is plain to see; Daggett argues that the very concepts of energy and work need to be decoupled to ensure a habitable planet. At a time of climate breakdown, we are only beginning to see the value in not working, of valuing a forest in its extant state rather than as timber or land cleared for grazing. Or, in other words, the value in leaving the biological and ecological worlds to do their work and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

This is a useful lens through which to consider Bitcoin and its Proof of Work system, an unintentional manifestation of Daggett’s argument. Only by consuming vast quantities of energy in order to demonstrate legitimate work done can miners access Bitcoin. This raises the price of admission to those who can afford the machinery to carry out that work, so the benefits are enclosed while the costs – huge carbon emissions – are borne by all. If Bitcoin were truly a world-changing electronic payments system that was truly revolutionary, there may be more credible arguments in its defence. Instead, Bitcoin in reality is co-dependent on traditional finance and, what’s more, a far less efficient payments and processing system than those that have existed for decades, handling payments of only around $4bn per year.12

At its heart, Cyber-Waste looks to dispel the notion that the digital and real worlds are substantially different, and that this understanding will reveal that, contrary to the rhetoric, there is quite a lot of waste built into digital technology. The vast physical apparatus of Bitcoin, not to mention its enormous and growing carbon footprint, clearly demonstrates this. The governance of Bitcoin, presented as revolutionary but in fact an instrument for elite financial speculation, is another sign of wasted or harmful energy.

Nowhere is this strange entanglement between climate breakdown and sustainability, between elite access and populist rhetoric, more apparent than in the recent bizarre story of Tesla and Bitcoin. Tesla vehicles promise to save the world, by weaning it off petrol (though much has been written about the limitations of simply replacing existing private transportation with EVs). It makes a lot of its money through carbon credits. Tesla recently acquired $1.5bn of Bitcoin, further pushing its price up and therefore increasing its emissions. And then it announced that it would start accepting Bitcoin as payment for Teslas, a rare public example of using Bitcoin as a payment technology. Viewed from another angle, however, it is easy to read this as Tesla, a so-called green technology company, buying Bitcoin with orders for its as-yet unmade vehicles. A new form of carbon on-setting, perhaps.

Bitcoin was presented as solving a monetary or payments problem, a rhetorically powerful premise that plays on general but nonspecific mistrust of seemingly unaccountable financial institutions, from central banks to asset managers, especially at the time of Bitcoin’s creation at the height of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). However, as JP Koning notes, ‘what is now apparent is that bitcoin was never a monetary phenomenon. It is a new sort of financial betting game. It is a digital, global, highly secure, and fairer version of the old-fashioned chain letter.’13 The hidden costs of Bitcoin are increasingly visible. It is becoming common knowledge that the energy consumption is vast: scientists writing in the journal Nature in 2018 even speculated that Bitcoin emissions alone could push global warming above 2°C. Many of the systems discussed in Cyber-Waste can claim to bring about positive effects for the common good, even if their current arrangements prevent them from doing so. In Bitcoin’s case, even on its own terms, it is hard to make that argument.

1  Nakamoto S (2008), Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic system, (here)
2  Tar, A (2018), Proof-of-work, explained, Cointelegraph, (here)
3  Swanson T (2021), Bitcoin and other PoW coins are an ESG nightmare, Great Wall of Numbers, (here)
4  Goldstein A (2021), Bitcoin could push global emissions above 2 degrees celsius, Truthout, (here)
5  De Vries A (2021), Bitcoin boom: What rising prices mean for the network’s energy consumption, Joule (here)
6  Lepawsky J (2020), Sources and streams of electronic waste, (here)
7  Min C (2017), The Future of Proof of Work, (here)
8  Yoon J (2021), Bitcoin mining boom adds to chip price inflation, Financial Times, (here)
9  Hruska J (2021), Cryptocurrency miners are reportedly ruining the laptop market, too, (here)
10  Swanson T (2021), Bitcoin and other PoW coins are an ESG nightmare, Great Wall of Numbers, (here)
11  Daggett CN (2019) The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, & the Politics of Work, Duke University Press (here)
12  Swanson T (2021), Bitcoin and other PoW coins are an ESG nightmare, Great Wall of Numbers, (here)
13  Koning JO (2019), Bitcoin 11 Years In, Moneyness, (here)



Self build e-bike.

3D model of typical self-build E-bicycle.
Self built from existing digital assets.
Thank you to Tolga G for your base model

Video of Rhino Model (.3dm+.mp4)

< 30mb

Created PR research




Looking at the design of Uber’s user interface reveals a logic that underpins many of the digital services that dominate discussions about the gig economy and contemporary consumer culture. As you open the app, the parallel road lines of the wordmark give way to an almost childlike, gamified urban landscape with you, the user, right at the centre. Presenting cartoonish car avatars nearby, it asks you, open ended, ‘Where to?’, then bends the urban landscape to your will, summoning to your feet a car that has effectively vied with competitors for your custom and is ready to transport you on your journey. Uber’s promise is to place you, the customer, at the centre of the world, a sort of omnipotent urban deity. The reason they can do this is because their technology, they claim, makes your mobility more efficient. This utopian promise is double-sided: for the drivers, they too sit at the centre of the screen in the form of a treasure map tailored just for them, one that finds sources of revenue quickly and puts the driver in control of their earnings with supposedly minimal effort.

The language of efficiency and smartness accompany many on-demand digital services widely used today. By cutting out (or actually, replacing) the complacent and cumbersome middleman, whether it’s a licensed taxi operator, public transport network or the traffic-clogged roads, services like Uber,, Ola, Bolt, Lyft, DiDi and countless others promise efficiency and simplicity. Digital first direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands also promise quality products and essential daily items that really matter to you, delivered direct to your door – from razor blades to houseplants, mattresses to vegetables. By becoming new types of middlemen, connecting customers to providers digitally, firms such as Amazon and Facebook remove barriers to transactions and seemingly make new efficiencies throughout the distribution process. Often described as platforms, they create new types of marketplaces with new demands and behaviours. They themselves control access to, and the terms of engagement with, any customer/competitor/provider. Similarly, firms like Uber (through its Uber Eats division), Deliveroo, Just Eat, Doordash and many more have created a new layer of middlemen that connects customers to restaurants by claiming to deliver food more efficiently and conveniently than the provider or diner could achieve themselves. They decouple meal-making from meal-eating, with couriers expected to close that gap as quickly as possible.

The slick self-portrait of a frictionless, efficient service utopia belies these apps’ wastefulness. Research has shown that the presence of Uber in cities adds to traffic and accidents and increases pollution, adding an estimated 69% more climate pollution than the trips they displace.[1] While placing the customer at the centre of the universe, the algorithm that compels employees/ contractors / drivers/ delete-as-appropriate-pending-latest-local-legal-battle to cruise the streets to signal their availability creates congestion and wastes human energy in cities worldwide on a massive scale.

This increase in the density of mobility services isn’t limited to precarious taxis by another name: e-scooters and bikes have crashed onto cities like a tidal wave. In 2018, a series of photographs went viral showing enormous graveyards of colourful bikes in cities around China.[2] In 2019, the Mayor of Paris announced new regulations and measures to curb the e-scooter wars that had spilled onto the streets since they first arrived a year before.[3] In both cases, this initial surge in breathless highly-capitalised service supply outpaced demand at such a rate that cities were inundated with bright, heavily branded bikes and scooters, as various mobility services entered into a gold rush to capture the new market. What started as a fairly benign question about bikes littering the streets soon turned into an overwhelming cascade of urban trash.

And in the case of food delivery services, the business model is so unworkable on its own unit economics that in most cases, everyone involved seems to lose money: the restaurant, the customer, the underpaid courier and the delivery firm itself. This story of ‘Doordash and pizza arbitrage’ shows this brilliantly.

Of course, these phenomena don’t arise from nowhere, but are born from specific economic and historical conditions and contexts. As many have observed, the rise of the gig economy is in many ways an extension of long-term trends in an economy driven by profit-seeking in the face of competition, including the turn away from more secure industrial employment towards a more flexible labour market and leaner business models. These trends combined in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) – in particular low inflation with rising asset prices despite low profitability, as well as the advances of the previous decades of technological innovation and the mainstreaming of smartphones – to create the perfect conditions for new, well-branded expressions of the gig economy to emerge, with its many competing businesses.[4]

As Evgeny Morozov observed back in 2018, such competition generates masses of waste that runs counter to the ‘techno-populist rhetoric’ of efficient coordination that benefits society.[5] In the case of China’s bike graveyards and, to a lesser extent Paris’ e-scooter wars, this is made highly visible as intense competition gives way quickly to a collapse in the market. In the case of brands like Deliveroo, the lockdowns that accompanied the pandemic fuelled demand for takeaway meals, and caused their valuation to soar, despite the company remaining unprofitable on the unit economics of every meal delivered. Amazon took a 16% stake in the business. And yet its recent IPO has already been labelled ‘London’s worst IPO in history,’[6] with billions wiped off its initial valuation in days.

This wastefulness of money as well as time casts the opening image of this text, where the omnipotent customer is at the centre of a newly-created efficient world of on-demand delivery, in a different light. Financial advisors and lawyers make vast sums of money from consulting fees, and early investors pumping up pre-IPO valuations by championing the radical, world-changing coordination technology, inflates the perceived value of these companies and helps them sell their investment at highly inflated prices. In the case of Deliveroo, its IPO appears to have attracted 70,000 retail investors buying into the hype of a product’s highly exaggerated worth. The real customer here is not the person ordering takeaways or hailing cabs through efficiency, but the investor who can offload their stake at the highest possible value before it starts to fall.

In the case of something like Uber, backed by the immense wealth of Sovereign Wealth Funds, deep pockets mean the company can afford to subsidise taxi rides while trying to change the law to make their model viable. The waste in this case - of money and legal fees - runs alongside a service that produces harms on the streets; pollution, accidents, lost human potential and social precarity are all direct and wasteful consequences of this waiting game.

Perhaps more importantly, there is a human consequence to these expectations of rapid delivery and efficiency. Amazon promises the most efficient, customer-friendly services the world has ever seen, and their Prime offer of next day delivery on almost anything appears to customers like magic. Of course, this is set against very well-documented appalling working conditions in their ‘fulfillment centres’. Couriers and delivery drivers, not only from Amazon nor even just delivery apps but many logistics firms, have to meet punishing targets, and are encouraged to pay to augment their working environments to keep up the pace. Nowhere has this been more bleakly revealed than the now infamous reports of delivery drivers forced to keep their own excrement in the vans or run the risk of missing their targets and losing their income, something the firm has only very recently admitted in public.[7] These features are not only the preserve of self-presenting technology firms: the practice of scientific management and separating knowledge and execution of tasks have been around for decades. Gavin Mueller talks here about its origins in the US military, arguing that efficiency is only a side-effect of these practices, which were more concerned with predictability. If predictability is indeed a more important driver than efficiency, and if the firms flooding the market with these services are themselves rarely profitable but a vehicle for investors to speculate and sell, the question of why we accept so much human waste in the service of something that is not really efficient is worth considering. As the pandemic shifted focus from office deliveries to home deliveries, as the cardboard mounds build next to the municipal bins and become increasingly visible in domestic day-to-day life, whether sale and return clothing or takeaways, it is worth listening to the reports of delivery drivers and considering the waste that is produced in getting things quickly to your door, way before the packaging is left out for recycling to deal with.


1  Anair D, Martin J, de Moura M, Goldman J (2020), Ride Hailing’s Climate Risks, Union of Concerned Scientists link
2  Taylor A (2018), The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles, The Atlantic (here)
3  Taylor A (2018), The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles, The Atlantic (here)
4  Srnicek N (2017) Platform Capitalism; Montalban M, Frigant V, Jullien B (2019), Platform economy as a new form of capitalism: a Regulationist research programme, Cambridge Journal of Economics 2019, 1-20
5  Morozov E (2018), From Airbnb to city bikes, the ‘sharing economy’ has been seized by big money (here)
6  CNN (2021), London needed a win. Instead it got its worst IPO in history, (here)
7  Lee T (2021), Amazon admits its drivers sometimes have to pee in bottles, Ars Technica, here




An augmented globe, geographically representing the concentration of digital assets.

3D animated model (OBJ/.mp4)

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On March 20th 2021, PostRational teamed up with Lucas and Miha From WAAG in Amsterdam.
Together we conducted a "Data Walk", alongside a stretch of land in Middenmeer, north of Amsterdam.

Middenmeer is a site of industrial agriculture, with a geothermal heat centre to heat the many greenhouses for vegetable growing near by. It is also the site of Microsoft data centres, with many more planned to be built.



This piece first appeared in The Reboot magazine on March 8th 2021. It is republished here, with permission from the author and publisher.

The Internet of Landlords Makes Renters of Us All

Breaking the platform economy’s cycle of extraction and enclosure can redistribute power over data and infrastructure to the public.

By Jathan Sadowski, a research fellow in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University. He is the author of the book Too Smart and co-host of the podcast This Machine Kills

Future historians will mark 2020 as the year when, in the midst of a world historic crisis, it became viscerally apparent that we’re divided into two economies. For the majority of people struggling to make ends meet — with few options but to resort to working in dangerous conditions at warehouses or tethering themselves to servant apps run by exploitative platforms, all while avoiding imminent threats of infection and eviction — it was the worst of times. For a small class of wealthy executives — those who own these companies, control access to essential services, and innovate new ways to extract value — it was a record-breaking year.

Throwing this distinction into sharp relief, tech critic Paris Marx pointed out that billionaires added $3.9 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic while workers globally lost $3.7 trillion in earnings. It’s no accident that the biggest winners of the coronavirus crisis are the same tech and finance executives who have been aggressively consuming the world for more than a decade. This massive redistribution of wealth, from labor to capital, should be seen as a direct outcome of digital platforms reaching new levels of dominance as their owners strive to amass profit and consolidate power.

For example, despite increased scrutiny on the inhumane costs of Amazon’s massive logistics and surveillance infrastructure, “the company as a whole posted record quarterly revenues of $125.6bn, up more than 40 per cent in the same period in the previous year, and comfortably beating Wall Street’s expectations,” reports Financial Times. Meanwhile, gig platforms like Uber and DoorDash scored a major legislative win last November with the passage of Proposition 22 in California, which exempts them from classifying their workers as employees. By enshrining into law a new form of serfdom-as-a-service, these platforms hope to finally turn a profit off of their precarious workforce.

The ascendancy of platforms has been accelerating at breakneck speed over the last decade. The 2019 Digital Economy Report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development shows that companies in the technology and consumer services sector have taken over the global economy, surging from just 16 percent of global market capitalization in 2009 to a staggering 56 percent in 2018. Almost half of the top ten largest firms in 2018 weren’t even among the top hundred in 2009: Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, and Tencent. This far surpasses other sectors like financial services, fossil fuels, and healthcare. It’s safe to assume that this figure has only increased, as digital platforms take advantage of multiple crises and continue to aggressively expand.

In an economy shrinking for the many and growing for the few, the cutthroat drive to be a monopoly no matter what — a defining feature of platforms — has proved to be good business.

The core business model of platform capitalism is best understood as an expansion of rentierism — owning property for the purpose of maintaining control over it and extracting rent from those who live and work on it. I call today’s techno-economic system — which drives investment in innovation, development of infrastructure, and accumulation of capital — the Internet of Landlords. Here I’m referring to the Internet of Things, which creates sprawling networks of smart stuff that are materially essential for value capture by corporations that seek to enclose everything on their platforms. Think of them as landlords that, instead of owning your house, own all of the other infrastructure and services that you and the economy as a whole rely on every day.

In short, the Internet of Landlords is based on turning all social interactions and economic transactions into “services” that are mediated by corporate platforms. The proliferation of platforms fills society with ubiquitous digital intermediaries that spread rentier relations far and wide, at different scales and intensities, while also concentrating control over infrastructure and economic value in a small number of large hands.

This is what Amazon does for e-commerce and cloud servers, or what Uber does for transportation and food delivery, or what Google does for search and productivity tools. The list goes on endlessly as tech companies increasingly describe themselves as providing “X as a service.” But what this business model really means is that they enjoy all the rights of owning an asset while you pay for the limited privilege of access. In other words, we are now forced to deal with an explosion of landlords in our daily life — constantly paying rent, both in terms of money and data, for all of the different tools and services we use.

“The spaces where we live and where we work are capitalism’s main battlegrounds,” writes author and activist Astra Taylor, “and the rise of networked digital technologies have given capital more powerful weapons with which to conquer them — weapons we can be assured will be put to use as we enter a phase of coronavirus-induced uncertainty and volatility.”

These platforms aren’t so much disrupting capitalism as they are updating traditional forms of rentierism for a society filled with smart technology. Instead of demanding payment from the place you live, the Internet of Landlords captures revenue from the use of digital platforms. Instead of just capitalizing on real estate, the Internet of Landlords is the gatekeeper to services, servers, and software. Instead of just taking its toll in the form of money, the Internet of Landlords also treats data as a key source of value, hoarding as much of it as possible.
Digital platforms perpetuate a vicious cycle of data extraction and digital enclosure. Companies like Amazon do this in a large-scale centralized way to integrate control over entire value chains into their platform. This allows them to maximally monitor, manage, and monetize every component — for example, by using systems to surveil workers and automate factories with names like Monitron and Panorama. Meanwhile, a multitude of “smart” things like home assistants and coffee makers are continually streaming data in a small-scale decentralized way to manufacturers’ servers, which use software licenses to maintain remote control over them. Even after we purchase the device, its maker retains property rights over the digital parts of the physical object, preventing us from modifying, repairing, or exercising any real agency over its features.

All of this raises the question of who really has ownership in our economy? Who claims the lion’s share of value generated by productive work and captured from essential infrastructure? Increasingly, the answer is not people, but platforms. Not users, but landlords.
A long line of classical economists across the political spectrum, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx to John Maynard Keynes, all found consensus on one issue: denouncing landlords as “parasites” on the economy. By controlling property that is required for productive activities of work and life, they latch onto circuits of capital and consumption, claiming a cut in the form of rent and directly redistributing value from workers to their pockets. It’s time we finally recognize that corporate platforms — the Internet of Landlords — operate in much the same manner and deserve to be seen in the same light.

The scale of the exploitation is such that even the United Nations can no longer ignore it. As a recent UN report on the power of corporate platforms bluntly states, the “vision of an interconnected digital world, free from artificial boundaries to the flow of information,” has been co-opted by big tech firms that are “turning the mining and processing of data into a rent-seeking cornucopia.”

There’s no security to be found in hoping that we aren’t evicted by the platforms that have unaccountable power over us. By e-commerce giants kicking sellers out of the store, by gig companies deactivating workers’ accounts, by manufacturers bricking our devices. This techno-economic infrastructure has become too critical to allow it to be controlled by the grace of digital landlords. We have to make platforms meet the needs of the public, not the other way around. Otherwise their cut of the economy will only grow larger and larger until there’s nothing left to extract.

Rather than viewing digital platforms as a great break in society — unlike anything that has ever come before, as both disruptors and their critics are fond of asserting — we should simply see them as the latest case of out-of-control landlords who must be reined in. Responding to public pressure, politicians have begun conducting antitrust investigations into tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. This is a good place to start, but breaking up giant platforms while leaving the core rentier features of their business model untouched risks leaving us with a group of somewhat smaller landlords still divvying up ownership over society’s infrastructure. To truly redistribute power away from platforms, we have to focus on the foundation of the digital economy: data.

We can begin by crafting policies that impose data controls on platforms that are inspired by already existing policies of rent control and capital control. The latter should also be greatly expanded at the same time. With rent control, governments put hard limits on the amount of rent that landlords can demand from tenants, whereas capital control governs the flow of money into and out of markets. A policy of data control should do both: restricting the conditions, purposes, and uses of data that corporations extract from people, while also overseeing the flow and exchange of data across different markets and industries.

A policy of data control would target the core imperative driving many corporations today: capturing all data, from all sources, by any means possible. What’s more, it would actively prevent that data from being used to build even more socially harmful technologies at some point in the future. “People tagging online photos of themselves and their friends in 2009, for example, could not have known that companies contracting with law enforcement in 2019 would use such information for facial recognition products,” explains legal scholar Salomé Viljoen.
Data controls are crucial for reversing the vast political and economic asymmetries that currently exist in our system while delivering more power over platforms to the public.




Propertarian / Dignitarian / Democratic

What to do about a dozen or so firms owning and controlling all the world’s data?
Three responses to the question of data governance.

This is a very simplified version of an original essay, ‘Data as Property?
by legal scholar Salomé Viljoen, published in Phenomenal World in October 2020)



The Digital Waste Management Business

Data: the exhaust and trails of the lives of billions of people around the world. The data generated by digital design systems that cause people to produce, unthinkingly, heaps and heaps of monetisable information. The digital detritus is gathered by a handful of extractive data firms, through various routes. Like the cartels of waste management, these firms are the refuse entities of a data-rich economy. They also win the recycling contracts, encouraging the generation of more data, collection it after use and repackaging and repurposing it in ever more inventive ways for profit. It's like a license to print money.




In May 2017, The Economist published a special report called ‘Fuel of the Future’. Arguing that ‘data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change’, it laid out similarities between oil refineries and data centres as sites where the essential materials for the global economy are processed and produced. It also argued that digital information differed from any previous resource in the way that it is ‘extracted, refined, valued, bought and sold’, pointing to the development of free to use services as one example.

The idea of digital information flows powering the engine of a Post-Fordist, post-carbon service and knowledge-based economy is not new. However, the rapid growth of a handful of big technology companies this century – accelerated by the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and consolidated in the immediate response to Covid-19 – has given everyday, observable shape to this idea. How then does the role of data mimic or differ from that of oil as a key economic driver?

Fossil fuels are found as naturally occurring resources deep in the earth. However, their centrality to modern economies was not inevitable, but rather the result of conscious planning and engineering. Once located and extracted, they are refined and processed to create stores of energy with far greater intensity and power than the widely distributed but relatively weak energy created by burning wood[2] . Their intensity and density are mirrored by the infrastructures created around them, in transport, sites of production and the social movements that arise in response to them. In other words, ‘great quantities of energy flowed along very narrow channels’[3]. Whoever controls the channels of energy wields great power and captures the potential for great profit, as evidenced by the huge wealth of petrostates and fossil fuel companies around the world, especially in the second half of the twentieth century.

Today, the information that constitutes what we understand as data are neither naturally occurring gifts nor inevitable as drivers of economic growth. They need to be imagined as data to exist and function as such; they are not mined but manufactured[4]. In terms of its capture, part of the underlying logic of so-called data capitalism is to develop the need and mechanisms to generate data, which can then be extracted and processed, before creating value. The widespread austerity that followed the GFC created perfect conditions for investing in these digital services, with investors seeking higher rates of return in a sluggish economy, precarious labour conditions, and the underfunding of public services creating opportunities for data-rich digital services to step in[5].

Firms have invested in a range of sophisticated techniques to generate data. These range from seductive behaviourist click-baiting, social media feeds for online advertising and the marketing of free digital services, through to the creation of marketplaces to facilitate exchange between a range of users and companies. As well as the design of services, techniques can also include different instruments of data extraction, such as the introduction of sensors in physical spaces or terms and conditions embedded in digital services that give permission for the collection of personal data in exchange for user right of way. Through vast data accumulation enabled by the promise of monopoly power and coordination rights, these services, slick and preferable as they often are for consumers, don’t only disrupt their obvious analog counterparts, but other markets as well. In data capitalism, therefore, ‘flows of data correspond to flows of power and profit,’[6] as can be seen by the enormous economic power of US companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon and Chinese firms like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu in China.

A lot of work goes into the generation of all this data, in order that it be acquired and rendered valuable. Much of the economic value placed on the huge valuations of firms is less about what they functionally do and more about the potential of ‘their’ data to be turned into some useful new service, constantly repackaged and recombined with new data in new contexts. Data becomes a business asset that must be considered conceptually infinite, very different from the scarce reserves of oil. The need for long-term profitability in the face of competition, combined with a model that generates and extracts data and perpetually seeks new ways to package and repurpose it, creates processes of accumulation that – theoretically at least – could go on forever[7]. This explains what has been called the ‘data imperative’, whereby organisations collect data even if they don’t know what to do with it[8]. And millions of businesses pay firms like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other cloud and computing services to store their data and run services on top of it.

All this data needs to be stored somewhere. This is where data centres come in, ‘data processing farms that are outsourced to server farms.[9]’ To say the cloud is not a cloud has become cliché, but the sheer size of these vast warehouses that exist invisibly behind the screen is worth noting. Switch SuperNAP in Nevada, once the world’s largest data centre, is 2.2m square feet, the size of approximately 38 football fields. Today, China Telecom’s Information Park in Inner Mongolia is roughly 5x bigger, at 10.7m square feet. These centres have to be big: they hold a lot of storage. The International Data Corporation, a market intelligence firm, reported in May 2020 that ‘the amount of data created over the next three years will be more than the data created over the past thirty years’. The new data, unique data (created and captured) and replicated data (copied and consumed) is expected to keep growing at a compound annual growth rate of 26%[10].

These centres have significant energy demands. As far back as 2006, they constituted 1.5% of all electricity in the US; by 2018, that figure applied globally and is expected to reach 8% of all electricity demands by 2030[11]. Though recent investments in renewable energy and clean electricity means that scare stories about data centres being more harmful in terms of carbon emissions than the aviation industry are probably overblown, the rapid growth of data usage still comes at high cost. Idle servers use considerable amounts of energy, with approximately 30% of global data center servers estimated to be either underutilized or completely idle[12]. Energy demands are built not only on computational needs, but secondary support, such as cooling systems and backup generators. Even beyond electricity provision, these secondary functions place huge strain on local resources, with cooling systems using diesel and consuming huge amounts of water.

The waste effects of data are partly environmental. There have been significant efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of data centres, with most of the large US firms making bold public commitments and also increasing transparency on their emissions, largely due to pressure from outside[13]. Though China lags behind in the cleanliness of energy powering its data rich firms, there is increasing pressure and action to reduce the carbon intensity of digital infrastructure[14]. A more pressing environmental concern is the question not of data itself as the new oil, but rather ‘oil as the new data’, where cloud computing services with unprecedented data processing power are put to use helping fossil fuel companies automate the processes of locating and extracting previously harder-and-dearer-to-find carbon reserves[15]. These revelations have led to some employee-led protests at firms like Google[16].

The most pressing issue, however, in this paradigm of data-rich economic coordination, is about the concentration of wealth and power into a small number of firms in the US and in China. In 2014, four of the five largest data centres in the world were in the US. Today, the US is home to only four of the largest fifteen, and none of the top eight. The seven largest are all in China[17]. Whether backed by state agencies or private corporations, the data arms race reflects a mutually invested commitment to ever-expanding data manufacture and capture. The consolidation of ownership in hyperscale data centres - the 15 largest have about 50% market share of the data colocation market[18], renting out digital space to retail customers - reflects these patterns of concentration within data and digital services.

Unlike oil, concentrated and buried underground, then brought to the surface and shipped throughout the world to make energy, data ‘reserves’ are manufactured all over the earth’s surface then captured and flown inwards. Instead of being shipped outwards, all over the world, data flows inwards, to one of a few, enormous data centres, controlled by one of a few, enormous states or private companies. This concentration in the face of competition, combined with the promise of unending, conceptually infinite data generation, conjures an image of ever more information squeezed into fewer and fewer hands. There is huge social potential in the world’s data, generated universally, being deployed to common benefit; whether to answer questions of energy, health, employment, transportation, and so on. The decisions to do so, currently, sit in the hands of an alarmingly small group of people.


1 The Economist (2017), Fuel of the Future (here and here)
2 Mitchell T (2009), Carbon Democracy (here)
3 Mitchell T (2009), Carbon Democracy (here)
4 Gitelman L (2014), “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron, MIT Press (here)
5 Srnicek N (2016), Platform Capitalism (here); Morozov E (2018), Digital Capitalism and Discontent (lecture, here)
6 Sadowski J (2019), When data is capital (here)
7 Morozov E (2019), Capitalism’s New Clothes, The Baffle (here)r; Sadowski J (2019), When Data is Capital (here)
8 Fourcade M and Healy K (2016), Seeing like a market, Socio-Economic Review (here)
9 Story J (2014), Cloud computing and the NSA: The carbon footprint of the secret servers, Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law, Volume 9 Issue 1 Winter 2014 (33-65) (here)
10 ICD (2020), Global Datasphere Forecast (here)
11 Jones N (2018), How to stop data centers from gobbling up the world’s electricity, Nature, link
12 Raritan (2019), Uptime institute study (here)
13 Greenpeace (2020 ), Oil in the Cloud, link
14 Ye Ruiqi (2021), How will China’s internet giants become carbon neutral? China Dialogue, link
15 Zero Cool (2019), Oil is the New Data, Logic Mag (here)
16 Greenpeace (2020), Oil in the Cloud, here
17 Source: World's Top Data Centers, link here
18 Sverdlik Y (2021), 2021: These are the World’s Largest Data Center Colocation Providers, link






Lithium extraction comes in two main forms with different concentration levels; industrial processes and effects on local environment and biodiversity.




PR proposal for exploitation of globally significant lithium reserves in Cornwall, England.

How to reinvigorate a lots industry in this ancient land without subjugation or abuse of its natures or cultures?



Small letter exchange between lithium plant
worker and their lover. Chile / Mexico circa 2018
Translated Transcripts (Spanish > English)
< 3mb
Discovered and scanned