Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2

They call it Earth.

Uurth... really, what a stupid name.

Anyway... each year, on this world, over the course of a single day, people unite and decide to declare war upon turd, grow pica and impersonate famous worms.

They call that day... Earth Day.

If... you don't buy it, there's still the other story:
It’s an event which started years ago, has evolved a bit since then, comes with both its good points and eventually less good points, and is scheduled to occur every 22nd of April, in the northern part of the world. The South people do it 6 months later, because they don’t live on the same planet.

So today is Earth Day. Well, in some parts of the world, since the rest of the planet doesn’t seem to give a flying duck about this forced eco party. Looks like it has turned into one of those “hey kids, let’s gather leaves in bags” kind of things, and this little adventure can eventually stretch over a whole week in certain places.

Earth Day is the absolutely perfect excuse I needed to talk about something I’ve been pondering, while sitting on the Throne of A Million Thoughts.
I wanted to nickname this particular train of reflection “Electronics and the Cost of Plastic” or “Nintendo, stop selling DS” (they’re such an easy target), or something just as inspiring as that.
Trying to picture the total mass of plastic produced thus far, across the planet, for the sheer construction and distribution of video games (consoles, cartridges, controllers), mobile phones and other stuff for PC… is something that is quite mind boggling… where are we going exactly?

Well, I don’t have a clue. However, my little finger tells me it’s not going anywhere called “reasonable”.
So I suggest that next gen consoles be made out of hardened cheese crust.

Just how much plastic has been produced and wasted thus far? Can we keep going on like that?
I wonder how far stuff gets recycled. We’d really need to think hard about waste plants.

While I’m on it, I’d like to send my warmest gratitude to all the poor and weak people who spend their useless time starving to death and killing each other, mysteriously oblivious to the daily and much enjoyable grace of consumerism.

On this note, Starvation.net offers a diagram. Well, let’s assume it’s correct.

Let’s imagine that all of these people lived in a developed country, didn’t die, and eventually had enough money to buy goods, like consoles, games, TVs, mobile phones, PCs and all that stuff for example.
Let’s start from 1990, up to 2008. I pick 1990 because… I always associate it to a kind of idealized prosperous video gaming era. Anyone who’s played games back then would still be tech savvy to some degree today (fact of mine), and therefore own a couple of electronic trinkets.

So, with 365 days per year, over 18 years, that’s 6,570 days.
The chart says that an average number of 23,468 persons die everyday.
I’ll give you one minute to think about that number… that’s about 9 pairs of Twin Towers demolished per day. Boom boom boom.

This brings us to a total of 154,184,760 nameless women, men and kids who died over those latest 18 years … well, mainly kids I suppose.

Okay, if I read this correctly, just imagine now if these 154 million more guys and gals were still alive, on this cramped planet, and had been eating, drinking, buying goods and driving cars like… like… us!

“Experts” are already talking about how there’s not enough food on Earth right now for everyone, and how, thanks to the miracle of technology, we can now send huge nuclear powered ice breakers to go fishing around the north pole and bring back tons of shrimps, cause they’re full of proteins, and we like that (proteins).

How could we think about feeding them if we can barely feed ourselves?
And then what about oil, and therefore plastic?
They cannot be allowed to survive!
The less for them, the more for us. Again, thanks guys, whoever manages to maintain this status-quo.
Then you wonder why certain countries hardly take off, prevented to even get a glimpse of what Spock may have called prosperity. Forced to hold back?

This cynical babble brings me to another point about the future of classic retail, and people downloading stuff (games, music, porn, etc.).

Since today, the topic is about Earth and its resources, the effects of massive industries on the planet’s biosphere, we could eventually wonder what would be the best option for Earth.
Would it be better to keep buying discs of various types, or on the contrary adopt mass networked retail?

Just by the name, one sounds primitive, while the other one seems to be inspired by one of Shirow’s universes.
I’m torn between both, and I think I still prefer the first one in some aspects. I like to keep my things solid.
Emotion and all that, sometimes there’s a sort of aura of importance that emanates from an object. That’s very materialistic, but I like to know that my games boxes are there, with the precious discs inside. But is it wise?

On that note, I own the collector editions of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The boxes are made of a sort of cardboard.
I’d rather have them made out of real wood actually, because the only thing that makes that cardboard look cool is because it’s used for rare editions. Other than that, it’s cheap and shit (same system applies to Magic’s rare cards, and how people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy torn out cardboard play cards).
But the advantage of this is that it’s a plus for the environment.
It has some bits of plastic in it, but it’s obviously less intrusive than all those 100% plastic boxes used for the vast majority of games.

So, back to the question of which is the most environment friendly option.

Store retail or download?

Which one has, on the average, the highest consumption of energy and matter per link of its respective chain of design, production and retail?

Is it better to keep your PC running for hours to download large applications, and consume electricity (generated by various types of plants, many still using elements damaging the environment) or get in your car and drive to your nearest store and buy the solid stuff?
Photovoltaic technologies are fine and all, but not efficient enough, and still a wee bit too expensive (check out Howstuffworks’ article on solar energy).
Don’t get me wrong, it keeps getting improved, but we’re not there yet. With patience and by the time download will be more popular, both could conceivably walk hand in hand.

Among the thousands of other questions you could ask yourself, is how much electricity a factory spends on pressing discs? What about the chemicals needed to maintain the machines? What about the quantity of matter spent and wasted per disc?
A server, used to host the files, will require materials for construction, but once it’s there, well, it’s small and can contain a lot of information. It still needs energy to run, people to maintain it (along the ones needed to maintain the data network), but all in all, even if you consider all the elements of the download chain, would energy consumption be that high?
Of course, the server runs constantly and you need several of them, while factories usually don’t. But when factories wake up, their energy consumption breaks through the roof.

I couldn’t make any estimation, but wouldn’t it be obvious that download would be better?

Ok, let’s say it is. Well, how do you store stuff then? Hard drives? Memory cards? CD-ROMs?

The first two options are relevant and noble. You may not have a HD with Guitar Hero pasted on these supports (you could still buy stickers), but you’ll sure have a good load of games on them, along other things.

Notice that in the last case, you precisely nullifying the point of download, even to the point where you could actually use CD-ROMs which would be of lesser quality than the retail ones.
Now consider how much of the content you may already download per month, you actually end burning on CDs (and think about the extra energy used by the laser to burn those discs).

It seems that CD-ROMs degrade over years, much faster than previously thought. I’m not sure they suck at outliving red fishes, but a recent documentary I saw had some scientists sweating a lot at the prospect that so many archives would soon be lost if they weren’t transferred to better supports instead of being kept on CDs.
Now, were they honest about their conclusions, and not trying to force the consumers into new habits, who knows?
Unfortunately, I don’t remember if their conclusions also covered Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, but I'd doubt it.
But if this holds a nugget of truth, we may have to reconsider the idea of storing stuff on CDs.
Memory cards, or anything similar, starts to sound like the soon-to-be-trivial solution. Maybe the cartridge circle is coming close to completion, from a certain point of view.

It’s rather obvious that the more our industries rely on electricity obtained from renewable energies, as well as the less they have to consume energy and matter, the less we use solids to store content, all the better.
The longer the supports survive the tides of time, the better as well.

Maybe that's an idea worth exploration for a quick sim game?

I hope I won’t be too old and conservative the day we’ll have to make the jump. Still, I believe that the old ways won’t be totally phased out.
Live shopping won’t die.
Same for Disco.

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