Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play a pivotal role in modern societies. This privileged status is confirmed if it is analysed in quantitative terms: in the last 50 years the world population has doubled, while ICT consumption has multiplied by six in the same period of time. The benefits of this technological revolution are taken for granted, and indeed, these same benefits are used to motivate and justify the constant renewal and acceptance of all sorts of ICT devices.
Additionally, sustainability advocates regard ICT devices as environmentally friendly, as a staunch ally of a sustainable lifestyle, because of their ability to accomplish efficient manufacturing processes, virtualise products, reduce daily transport (commuting) thanks to video conferencing as well as reduce greenhouse gases through the development of smart buildings, that is to say, smart cities.
In short, ICT devices are mainly marketed as neutral artifacts, as one of the main pillars of civilization. However, this is a biased and incomplete perspective that does not recognize that every single act of communication is supported by a material reality and has environmental and social consequences:
When we use any kind of media gadget, such as “smart” phone, tablet PC, or desktop computer, the lifecycle of that machine is deeply connected to the global economy´s impact on the environment. Our devices leave an ecological footprint through their manufacture and disposal, while all the data our gadgets access and store in the “cloud” also physically impact the environment. (Antonio López, Greening the Media (2014))
In other words, the so-called information society is far from being an immaterial society. Actually, it is a continuation of the material reality of capitalism, whose wellbeing demands a huge digital infrastructure that relies on numerous items such as computers, smartphones, consoles, data centres, etcetera.
The concept technological sublime could explain how the fascination caused by electronic innovations have prevented a critical reflection on their serious environmental and social repercussions. Apart from that, in the 19th century mechanism establishes a dichotomy between human beings and nature that can still be observed nowadays. Thus, nature is regarded to be as morally and socially inferior.
This sheer distinction between natural ecosystems and human societies is characteristic of western nations or rich countries, and the result of a complex and long process whose origin can be traced in the evolution of modern civilization. Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller are one of the first Media scholars worldwide to link Media Studies with the environmental impact of ICT devices. Indeed, Miller and Maxwell highlight that Media Studies have merely concentrated for too long on textuality, technology or reception, and have ignored the unavoidable connection between the Media and natural resources.
All in all, information and communication technologies are of paramount importance in the information society. Their advantages are taken for granted, while the same enthusiasm that motivates their consumption constantly hinders raising awareness of their dramatically impact on natural ecosystems.