Following on from my most recent publication, one of my most loyal and long-standing readers (and good friend) commented that it was “A particularly (expletive deleted) gloomy blog today, Mr. Charlwood. Glass half empty is it?!!”
OK, I admit that it was unlike most of my articles and was a little doom-laden, but I was, indeed, trying to make a point – and that is we really don’t take our personal data security that seriously.
During the text-based conversation that followed, we got around to talking about social media, and how much time it absorbs without our awareness.
When I used Facebook regularly, I could easily spend an hour and a half scrolling through my news feed, and commenting on friends’ activities and responding to posts mentioning me.
It shocked me when I analysed my Screen Time app on my Apple iPhone to see just how much time I was investing in what is, to all intents and purposes, a solo activity.
It seemed that I was spending 5 hours a day staring into my screen. To be fair, 2 hours of that was using the satnav function of the ‘phone in the car.
I hasten to add, that it’s not that I forget how to drive the 44 miles to work, but for updates on traffic, and route optimisation, but the Screen Time system still includes it in the tracking. I must remember to re-configure the Screen Time app so that it ignores screen use when I am using Waze.
So, 3 hours!
3 hours is a lot. Over 95% of that time was using Facebook. 2% was using LinkedIn. Luckily, Facebook was the only social media I really used – I could have been spending far more time if I also used Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
I stopped using Facebook three weeks ago. This was as a direct result of Facebook’s “bully-boy” tactics of denying both local and international news from being shared on its’ Australian service. This was pretty much the straw that broke the camels’ back. I had been getting increasingly uncomfortable with the way that the platform harvests my personal data.
Since then, the time I spend locked into my ironically isolated world, whilst I “engage” socially with my friends has reduced enormously.
My Screen Time has plummeted by 70% – and my daily average screen time is 2h 41m which includes 1h 54m of travel.
I note that my most used apps are WhatsApp (soon to be deleted and replaced with Signal), Messages, Safari, LinkedIn, and Mail. Not surprising really, as without the need to be locked into social media, I am spending time on the phone actively communicating.
It seems that I am not alone. My friend was also shocked that he was spending over four hours daily looking at his ‘phone screen. Like me, it seemed that he imagined his usage was “maybe an hour a day”
What was more shocking, according to him, was that he doesn’t use social media!
Having looked into this, my research suggests that 4 hours a day is about the average amount of time for adult individuals to spend on their smartphones. I’m pretty sure that all of these people would also be surprised to discover how much time they were spending locked in cyberspace, rather than existing in reality.
Since I discovered the true value of the Apple Screen Time function, I am much more aware of my device usage. The system is self-managing, and it’s simple to configure using the settings menu.
I also use an iPad, and a MacBook Pro computer, so I have set the system up to combine my usage across the devices, so that I get a true picture of how I am spending my time.
For those of you who use Apple products for the whole family, the app will even be able to show individual family members times, which would be useful to monitor the time that children spend on their phones or iPads.
There is an important factor to this, as there is well-documented and respected research that clearly shows that excessive use of computer screens may be injurious to health.
There are several aspects to this.
Firstly, the display screens of modern computers, smartphones, tablets and e-book readers are backlit by LEDs. This gives a crisper, brighter image, but at the same time emits powerful light in the blue colour spectrum.
Fluorescent lighting and the newer LED bulbs being used for environmental reasons also emit light in the blue spectrum, as does the sun.
In our natural environment, the amount of light that we receive regulates our circadian rhythm – our sleep to awake cycle.
As the sun begins to set, the reduction in solar light eventually triggers the pineal gland, seated deep in our brains to produce melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
In most cases, the release of melatonin will cause the individual to fall asleep. As light levels increase at dawn, we wake up.
Melatonin not only regulates our sleep to wake cycle, but in vertebrates, it also synchronises seasonal rhythmicity, and triggers such biological factors such as the time to reproduce, and hibernate. Clever stuff from Mother Nature.
However, using our screens late at night (who hasn’t laid in bed watching a Netflix movie on their tablet?) interferes with our brain chemistry and makes it more difficult to fall asleep and may cause disrupted sleep patterns.
Blue light is also injurious to the retina, and a recent Harvard study concluded that the output of high energy blue light from modern screens may cause eye health problems.
The retina is located at the rear of the eyeball, and is made up of multiple layers of very thin tissue. The retina also contains photo-receptor cells which capture the images of what a person is looking at.
A small proportion of cells, known as Retinal Ganglion Cells are not used directly by our vision systems, but they do monitor ambient light levels, and feed this information into the brain to assist in controlling our circadian patterns (sleep/awake) and for controlling the light response of the eye pupil – dilating it in lower light, and constricts the pupil in brighter conditions.
However, High Energy Visible (HEV) Blue light may harm the retina. Some of the potential damage may be prevented by a group of cells known as the macula. The macula is a tiny yellow area in the eye which absorbs excess blue and ultraviolet light.
Should the yellow pigment become too thin, then blue light can bombard the retina.
The Harvard medical study suggests that after chronic exposure to HEV blue light, (overusing our tablets, phones, laptops etc) there will be a predicted rise in the number of age-related macular degeneration conditions, Glaucoma, and retinal degenerative diseases.
Maybe we should schedule a sterile period each day, during which we have no interaction with our technology. Maybe dump Facebook? Instead of sitting slumped on our sofa, living our lives vicariously through the activities of others, we should go for a walk, or ride a bike.
Maybe use our phone to, dare I say it, make a voice call?
Anyhow, just in case anyone finds this article too gloomy, here are pictures of a rabbit riding a motor-scooter, and a dear little fawn.
Who likes history? If you do, then I invite you to take a little journey with me…
Cast your mind back to the early 1990s.
If you were one of the 10% of the UK population that possessed a cell-phone at that time, then you may well have owned one of these – a Nokia 1610.
It was a simple device – able to make and receive telephone calls, and send and receive text (SMS) messages. I was using this model of phone back then, and at the time it was regarded as one of the top phones available.
It had a tiny screen by today’s standards, and was quite bulky. The antenna, whilst small, was still an intrusion, and would often malevolently jam the phone into my pocket.
In 1996, 27% of the UK population owned a PC (In 2017, 88% of us had a computer at home). Mine was a Packard Bell desktop system that I bought from the now-vanished Dixons.
I can’t remember how much the system cost me, but I do remember that I was entitled to a Freeserve email account, which I used for a good few years before moving over to web-based systems such as Outlook, Google or more recently Imail.
My home set-up was ludicrously simple. No passwords, or hunting for that elusive Wi-Fi router.
Just plug the Modem into the network port on the PC, plug the other end into the phone line using an adapter, and the system was ready for use.
Getting onto the internet though, was a whole different matter. This was the heady days of Dial-Up Internet.
Simply open the web browser, and hit the connect button. The auto-dialler inside the PC would dial the number for the Internet Service Provider, and once connected, you would have been treated to the squeals and squawks of the computers setting up the connection.
Once connected, the upload and download speeds were truly awful. I well remember downloading a detailed photograph. It appeared line by line, and eventually, after five minutes or so, I got bored with waiting and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. I came back twenty minutes later – and it was still not finished.
Today, with fibre broadband, images appear almost instantaneously!
The internet was pretty simple too. Basic browsers that contained a multitude of adverts, and rather unsophisticated email. Shopping online was in its infancy – eBay had only been started in 1995.
So, the interconnected world really consisted of a computer, hard wired to a modem, and the embryonic world wide web.
The only real risk attached to surfing the web, was that of unwittingly downloading malicious software (malware) or computer virus.
The first computer virus was designed in the early 1970s. It was created as part of a research programme conducted by BBN Technologies in the USA.
Researcher Bob Thomas designed the programme to be self-replicating and was targeted at DEC computers that shared the ARPANET network. This virus was called Creeper.
Bob and his team then designed a programme called Reaper which, once released into the ARPANET, hunted out the infected machines, and then killed the virus by deleting it.
Obviously, breaking into computers was seen as a target of opportunity to the less honest members of society, and viruses started appearing more frequently.
Some were just mischievous, such as the Elk Cloner virus (written by a ninth grader in a Pittsburgh High School in 1981) which upon its 50th opening would display a poem, the first line of which was “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality.”
Others were more malevolent, and were designed to either destroy records and data from the infected computer, steal personal data, record website access passwords and log keystrokes. Ransomware enables the attacker to hijack a computer, and then demand payment to unlock the machine.
The resulting loss of public confidence saw the arrival of cyber-security, specialist organisations that analysed the emerging viruses, worms, trojans and malware and wrote anti-virus software, which could be loaded onto a computer and which could then subsequently scan it for infection and quarantine any suspect viruses into a part of the disc not readily accessible by the user, or by the system.
Fast-forward to 2021.
The internet has evolved – and BOY has it developed! If you are privileged enough to live in a developed country, you may already be using fibre-optic broadband, offering speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.
According to recent UK survey Hyperoptic offer a 1GB service for an introductory offer of £45.00 per month!
This is jaw-droppingly fast. To put it into perspective, it would have taken about 3.5 days to download a 4K film (about 2GB) using a 56kbit dial up service.
My previous broadband was copper-wire based, and the fastest speed I ever achieved for a download was 8Mb/sec – and that same 4K film would have been delivered to me in 35 minutes.
My latest broadband is totally optical and is Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and my download speed is a minimum of 71Mb/sec – that 4K movie is now mine in about 4 minutes.
One of the major advantages of broadband, is that unlike a dial up service, the system is “always on”. The old modem has been replaced with a router, which essentially does the same job, but additionally acts as a network hub, through which multiple devices may be connected simultaneously.
Whilst is it possible to connect equipment to the router using a network cable, most routers offer Wi-Fi connection, and this allows several Wi-Fi/internet-enabled devices to connect to the internet simultaneously.
With a sufficiently fast connection, it is possible for SWMBO to watch a movie on Netflix, whilst I catch up with a friend on a video call, or listen to the internet radio.
Why am I rambling on about this?
Well, technological advances never stop, and there is much publicity about the new 5G (5th generation communications network) which will increase the speed and capacity of the internet even further.
In my previous article, “Who is Driving YOUR Car?” I explored the embryonic Intelligent Transport System, which relies on internet-enabled vehicles and sensors in the fixed transport network, communicating with each other to provide optimised traffic flows and traffic safety management.
This is only made possible with 5G communications and ultra-fast internet systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is the medium through which our emerging “Smart Society” will operate.
In essence, the IoT consists of items that have the capability to connect to the internet, and communicate and exchange data with other similarly enabled things. These “things” may have sensors, software and other systems to support their intended purposes.
It could be a device as simple as a smart lightbulb that is able to be activated by a smart assistant such as Alexa or Siri, or from a suitably equipped smartphone – located perhaps many miles away.
Such items are already used in intelligent Building Management and Control systems, which employ an array of interconnected sensors to monitor heat and humidity, occupancy levels, lighting, lifts (Elevators for my US readers 😁) and security within a building.
Intelligent Healthcare uses the IoT to monitor medical data such as cardiac performance and blood pressure, or blood glucose levels. This enables improved management of an individual’s medical conditions. Significant research is being conducted in this area, and there are already several emerging disciplines and specialities.
The Internet of Things is also used in industry and manufacturing, to monitor and control processes – making use of internet-enabled sensors.
We are now seeing “Smart Homes” being built, which use the same type of Wi-Fi-connected IoT devices to control home environmental systems.
I imagine that a fair percentage of you may well be protecting your property with Closed Circuit TV Cameras. It’s probable that most of these cameras will be Wi-Fi-connected to your home broadband – and from there out onto the web.
Maybe some of you will have an App on your smartphone or tablet that enables you to remotely view the camera feeds.
Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homepod and Google’s Home are wirelessly connected to home networks, and are continuously monitoring their environment for their wake-up command (such as “Alexa”)
Smart doorbells enable us to see who is at the front door using integral video cameras and transmitting the footage over the internet via the home router and to an app on a smart phone.
Smart appliances, such as Samsung’s Smart Refrigerator now offer us the ability to manage our food.
An internal camera within the fridge compartment enables the user to view the contents by using a smart phone. The system will also monitor food expiry dates, without the door being opened, thus saving power.
Some models also enable groceries to be ordered via the fridge – a rather redundant feature in my opinion, as you can order your groceries online from your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.
Or, for the truly bold and adventurous – take a risk, and actually go into a shop and buy your groceries.
A large LCD screen is provided in order to display a family calendar, and if you really haven’t got enough tech in your home, it’s also fitted with a 5W Stereo sound system to play your favourite music tracks.
Poor Alexa… She may feel quite outranked by the domestic white goods!
Smart Washing machines are able to connect to the home network, and may be controlled remotely using an app, and are able to automatically sense loads, apply the correct dose of detergent, and add the optimal amount of water.
On some models, the best programme for the laundry load may be selected by filling in a few pieces of information on the app.
I’m sure it won’t be long before your garments will be fitted with a passive RFID tag, or a label barcode, and the machine will scan the items as they are loaded, and then set the correct wash programme.
Should an item that is not compatible with other items in the load be added inadvertently then the machine will inhibit the washing cycle from starting until the guilty culprit is removed.
No more business shirts stained girlie pink then!
As a society, we are all used to smart watches, and fitness trackers, (which all fall within the scope of wearable technology) and have become very complacent about the interconnectivity with our other tech.
And this is where the real problem lies…
Security MUST be one of your top priorities these days. I have removed my profile permanently from Facebook, as the platform discretely harvests everything I “like” and every comment I make. My preferences and personal data are then sold to other organisations, without my permission and regardless of the ethics involved.
Think about why Google and Facebook are free! There really isnosuch thing as a free lunch.
Most of you will already be protecting your data and PC behind an encrypted firewall, with passwords, multi-factor authentication, and PIN codes. In all probability, you will be paying for some kind of anti-virus protection which will (hopefully) prevent your data from being compromised.
The IoT makes this a lot more difficult.
The processing power inside some of the connected devices, and to an extent, their size may well prevent them from having all but the most basic of security protection – if any.
The CCTV you bought to protect your home may well be being used by the manufacturer, or a malicious hacker to access a backdoor into your router, from where it can monitor data passing up and down your comms link.
So, all of these innocent devices are hooked to the web via your router.
Lots of individuals I know never both changing the default password supplied with their devices, and will happily discuss bank details, finances, and other personal details within “earshot” of their smart speaker.
So, nasty hacker chap decides to wage an attack on his ex-employer. By harnessing the combined IoT devices of many households, and requiring all of them to connect simultaneously to the target company’s website will cause it to crash.
This is an extreme example of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), where innocent PCs and devices are hijacked to overload the target’s website.
Many large and respected companies have been attacked in this manner, despite having the financial clout and technical expertise to surround themselves with multiple layers of digital security.
In 2017, Google came under a sustained DDoS attack, originating from China, which, according to Google, lasted for up to six months.
In 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWB) was taken down for three days following a similar, yet more sophisticated attack.
Internet security expert Brian Krebs was attacked in 2016, when his website was assaulted by the Mirai botnet, executed by about 600,000 compromised and suborned Internet of Things – such as Internet CCTV cameras, home routers, and other simple IoT devices.
This may be the tip of the iceberg.
Cisco, the internet systems company predicted in its annual report (2018-2023) that sophisticated DDoS attacks will double from the 7.9 million in 2018 to 14.5 million in 2022.
Now the truly chilling bit…
In our increasingly technological world, we rely on the internet in so many ways – from grocery shopping to building control, from home banking to healthcare. Connected vehicles – not just cars, but ships, aircraft, tankers, trains.
As I have said, many of these devices are so simple and un-assuming, that we don’t regard them as a potential threat.
That simple fitness tracker that you wear all the time. The silly old fridge, just sitting there in your kitchen, keeping your food safe and edible. The CCTV that you use to monitor your car in the drive.
The ease and convenience with which you access your bank to pay a bill. The ability to have a video call with your dear old Mum from miles away.
And yet, in the stygian, gloomy murk of the deep, dark web, there lurk hackers, thieves, and criminals. Hackers who are willing to mount cyber-attacks from as little as 7.00 US$ per hour.
Foreign states, and terrorist organisations that are willing – and able – to hijack your IoT devices to wage an attack on society.
Imagine, if you dare – a world where the bad guys can hack into your car, and disable the brakes.
A world in which someone can access your pacemaker, and shut it down…unless you pay a ransom.
A world in which a hacker can eavesdrop on your home, and record everything that you say and do, and record everything about you?
It’s not as far-fetched and dystopian a reality as you think!
Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.
The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.
Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.
The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.
Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.
The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.
Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.
It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.
I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.
So, what may happen?
Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.
Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.
After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.
The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.
The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.
Who can really say?
If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.
Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?
Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.
Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?
It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.
In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.
The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.
Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.
The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..
This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.
Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.
This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.
There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.
This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.
Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.
Whilst researching for my previous article covering the climate change impact of mobile communications, I came across further research which claims that mobile communications enables an overall reduction in Mega tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year (mtCO2e/yr).
My previous article presented facts that appeared to prove that the ever-increasing use of smartphones and mobile technology communications was responsible for contributing millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
It would be useful to define mobile communications at this point. It covers quite a wide range of systems including mobile telephone networks, public Wi-Fi networks, Wide Area Networks, and Satellite networks.
To be fair, most of the carbon footprint was directly related to the extraction of materials and the subsequent production of the technology itself. The remaining contribution was as a result of the use of the equipment and the supporting infrastructure, such as powering data processing centres and the associated communications networks.
The research appeared to take no account of the societal changes caused by the use of such disrupting technology, and the reduction in the carbon footprint of mobile communications.
The counter arguments presented in this article are as convincing and fact-based as the arguments that mobile communications are climate change’s bad guys.
According to a report commissioned by The Carbon Trust, the use of mobile communications actually leads to an abatement of the carbon emissions generated by the use of that technology – approximately five times as much carbon emissions are abated as the emissions generated.
That’s quite a factor.
Use of mobile communications in the EU and the USA is currently enabling a reduction of about 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalence per year – an amount greater than the annual carbon emissions generated by the Netherlands.
So how does this pay-off happen?
A significant percentage of the total reduction in COe – about 70%, is generated by what is known as Machine to Machine (M2M) systems.
Mobile communications have enabled our infrastructure to become “smart”.
“Smart” buildings are fitted with several types of systems, such as those that monitor occupancy levels and turn lighting on or off as needed, and control heating, ventilation and temperatures according to programmed levels. Sensors fitted throughout the building communicate wirelessly to the controller to enable precise control of energy use and therefore costs.
In some cases, several buildings may be communicating with a server-controller located remotely, and if this is the case, it is likely that the internet or the cellular communications system may be the data carrier.
This type of technology is not limited to just commercial premises.
Flick through some of the glossier housing magazines, and you will find references to “smart homes”
Smart homes are designed and built to encompass the latest control systems. Many household systems may be configured and controlled using nothing more than a standard smart phone using simple software.
Owners of a smart home may be able to control heating, unlock or lock doors, operate lighting, close or open curtains, respond to the doorbell, play music, or switch the TV on or off.
Some systems will have algorithms that learn the users tastes and preferences and will detect when the house has become un-occupied, and will back off the heating, and control lighting as needed.
This is often accomplished by the detection of system-recognised mobile phones. When the mobile phone(s) leaves the home for more than the programmed time period, the system decides that the house is now un-occupied.
When the homeowner leaves work and gets within a predefined distance or time from home, the phone will autonomously communicate with the house, and the system can put the heat on, close the curtains, put the lights on, and be playing music on the owners’ arrival.
So, whilst data is being exchanged (at an environmental cost) the more intelligent use of power and energy compensates for this. In the world of commerce and business the savings may be truly on an industrial scale.
Local Authorities also benefit from M2M communications and are able to control street lighting and municipal lighting based on pedestrian or vehicular activity. Street lights may be able to communicate with each other and be able to adjust to lower light levels when there is no detected activity. This not only conserves energy, but also prevents light pollution from degrading the night time landscape.
Some towns have introduced smart refuse bins, which communicate their fill state to the local authority waste processing system. This enables real-time assessment of refuse collection requirements and enables collections to be scheduled only when needed. This has the net effect of making the collection of household waste much more efficient, saves money, and reduces the number of truck journeys made.
Furthermore, intelligent use of M2M enabled traffic signals can change sequencing according to traffic levels and ease delays, in turn reducing the emissions levels from vehicle exhausts. In the future, as vehicles become internet enabled, they will be able to communicate directly with both the infrastructure and each other, leading to more efficient use of the road system, lowering fuel requirements and hopefully reducing accidents.
Mobile Communications has really come of age with faster, secure networks that have enabled a huge number of individuals to work at home.
According to the Office of National Statistics (UK) in January 2014 there were about 4.2 million people working remotely – an impressive 14% of the UK’s workforce. That’s a good few cars and their associated emissions taken off the road.
With growth in the self-employed “gig economy” the number of people working from anywhere (WFA) is bound to have expanded, which is good for the environment, and better for both the employer and the employee
Using mobile communications, it is possible to attend meetings remotely, using systems such as Skype, which are sophisticated enough to enable delegates to share their computer screens with other team members working at the office or from home.
Mobile comms also cuts down on wasted paper, saving trees. Simple smartphone-based apps enable an employee to submit their expenses remotely, simply taking photos of receipts, and submitting them electronically. This reduces postage costs, as well as saving paper and time.
The rapid acceptance of smartphones and their associated technologies, has also stimulated behavioural changes in people’s personal lives.
Today, an average person may unwittingly reduce their carbon footprint by using video calling to talk to friends and family. In many cases this saves a time consuming drive to each other’s homes. It’s not quite the same as visiting, but enables better use of time, and again, takes another polluting journey off the road network.
Mobile comms also impacts on the provision of healthcare.
Individuals with serious and chronic health problems will often require frequent visits to hospitals and clinics in order to monitor their conditions, or to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare professional.
Smart phones and wearable technologies such as smart watches and fitness trackers are already beginning to enable a far more consistent capture of healthcare data. Suitable software programme can then transmit this over the mobile networks to the individual’s doctor.
Whilst this may not have a huge impact at current levels, as this become more accepted in the medical community, it will save journeys to hospitals, for both patients and visitors. It also enables patients to be potentially cared for at home rather than in hospital, which reduces consumption further.
Even agriculture and forestry benefits from the use of mobile communications.
Arable farmers may make use of smartphone and laptop-based systems to monitor crop conditions and target which areas of fields may require dressing with fertiliser. Natural fertiliser is an animal by-product which subsequently releases methane into the atmosphere.
Applying less fertiliser and targeting it where it’s needed is far more effective and eco-friendly than just applying a regular amount onto a crop that may not need it. This also saves runoff from fields polluting the water table – so a double benefit!
Animal farmers are already using smart apps that monitor the health of pregnant cattle, and herds may be monitored by GPS trackers – all enabled by mobile communications. This allows farmers to reduce veterinary call-outs, and simplify herding journeys, saving both time, money and the environment.
Having researched the information from both sides, my personal jury is still out on this subject. It has to be borne in mind that the report produced by the Carbon Trust was supported and funded by EE, BT, Telefonica (Who own O2 in the UK, and provide mobile comms globally) and Vodafone.
I am, however, a firm supporter of reducing traffic wherever and however possible, and working remotely using mobile comms is an obvious way to do this.
 A key takeaway from our research is that if a work setting is ripe for remote work – that is, the job is fairly independent and the employee knows how to do their job well – implementing WFA (working from anywhere) can benefit both the company and the employee” The Harvard Business Review
If like me, you have embraced new technology, you will, in all probability have a smartphone. It is likely that you will also own either a tablet computer or a laptop. Some of you may also have a smartwatch as well.
The smartphone has invaded all our lives, and research suggests that there are more than 79 million active mobile phone subscriptions. A recent report shows that Smartphones have penetrated 71% of the UK market – about 57 million units, all of which are sophisticated handsets capable of streaming video, internet surfing, emailing, and even making telephone calls and humble texting.
Business has been quick to see the potential in such technology, with banks and financial institutions offering account access via self-contained mobile applications – “Apps” in common parlance.
With a smartphone and the correct apps, it is possible to buy railway tickets, check bus times, take photos or video film, and plan a route to walk, cycle or ride.
Smartphones are also able to monitor health, run a diary, shop online and remotely control domestic systems such as heating, lighting and manage solar power generation systems.
Not bad for a device that’s smaller than a reporter’s notebook!
Mobile communications are not just limited to cellular telephones, but also incorporates laptops and tablets, and as any customer of a high street coffee shop will attest to, enables work to be conducted just about anywhere where there is an internet connection.
Work isn’t just limited to processing documents. I have been unlucky enough to be seated next to a very loud woman who was conducting a Skype meeting with her team from the normal genteel environment of Costa Coffee in Haslemere. Not only is this rude and inconsiderate, but she was also revealing an awful lot about her company and its confidential details.
For the price of a coffee, it is possible to hook into a reasonably stable Wi-Fi connection and work for an hour or two, writing and responding to emails, conducting research, and creating reports and presentations.
No commuting either – so its got to be ecologically sound to either work from home, or from the local coffee shop.
So, you would think.
It’s not quite as simple as that though, but to be fair, it never is.
Have you ever thought about the invisible carbon footprint generated by mobile communications?
Let’s forget, for a moment, the environmental costs of producing a smartphone in the first place. Concentrate purely on the actual business of communicating.
In order for your simple SMS text message to be sent, the message must be digitised and transmitted over the cellular telephone network. Your phone sends these messages using microwave frequencies to the nearest cellular base station. These are easily recognisable as they normally have several antennae mounted upon a mast.
At the base of the mast, is a small building that contains all of the necessary electronics systems to enable the mobile elements of the network to interface with the Public Switched Telephone Network.
The message then has to be processed by one or more data centres and forwarded back out into the network for onward transmission over the cellular network to its intended recipient.
All of this infrastructure consumes power and has to be resilient enough to provide secure, continuous and reliable service 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
Photo Credit E S Wales – Cellular Base Station
The same system supports mobile voice calls.
So – you want to read your emails in the coffee shop? Surf the web?
Emails require multiple data servers, and more computer communications centres, all of which consume massive amounts of power.
Maybe as you glug back your vente white americano you want to order that item on Amazon, or eBay?
More data servers, more computer communications centres, but now with the addition of financial data processing centres, with yet more power-hungry servers.
Here are some sobering facts.
Data Centres and Communications networks together with other parts of the infrastructure were responsible for in the region of 215 megatonnes of CO2e/yr back in 2007. By the end of 2020, this will have risen to about 764 megatonnes of CO2e/yr, with data centres accounting for about 33% of the total contribution.
The entire carbon footprint of Canada in 2016 was about 730 MtCO2e/yr!
According to research conducted by McMaster University, the relative contribution to climate change from information and computer technologies (ICT) is predicted to grow from 3.5% (2007) to about 14% by 2040.
Relative emissions generated as a result of smartphone use has risen from 4% in 2010 to an expected 11% by this year.
Absolute emissions (which include the production footprint; manufacturing energy, mining energy for extracting rare metals and gold and end-user activities) from these much loved ‘phones will, therefore, jump from 17 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) to 125 Mt-CO2e/yr in the same period! That’s a massive 730% growth.
Take out the production emissions, and we are looking at 12.5 megatonnes of CO2 per year just to use our smartphones.
Our Mobile operators (In the UK, EE, O2, Vodafone, Three) have an unintended impact on emissions. Many of their mobile ‘phone plans encourage their customers to upgrade to a new phone every couple of years.
I resisted this in the past and kept my old iPhone 6 for almost five years before I decided to change phones. I would have kept it longer, but the 16GB memory was full, and the software was in danger of becoming unsupported by Apple.
Encouraging and incentivising customers to change phones when their previous handset was more than adequate, is a good model for enhancing a corporation’s profit, but the negative impact on our environment is unsupportable.
There is only a limited number of ways that we, as a society can stop this.
At a societal level, state intervention and corporate governance must ensure that all data centres are upgraded so they may be powered solely by renewable sources of energy.
As individuals, we must all take a bit more responsibility.
It’s all very well for climate change protestors to exhort us all to ditch our cars, and to stop using plastics.
Equally important is not buying a new product unless the old one is either worn out, damaged beyond economic repair or no longer supported by the manufacturer or network requirements.
Upgrading to a new phone every time one comes out is nothing but technological vanity.
Remember too, if you must upgrade, then recycle your old phone.
Shockingly, less than 1% of all smartphones are being recycled.
Despite this, for the time being, Life’s Good.
 iPhone XR dimensions 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm 174gm
 Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi
Over the past few years, there has been a silent revolution taking place. The humble cellular mobile telephone has developed from an unsophisticated brick just about capable of making telephone calls, into a slender touch-screen smart device able to send video by email, and hook up to the internet from just about anywhere!
In parallel with the advancement of the mobile phone is the explosion into public consciousness of the benefits of social networking websites such as Facebook and Linkedin.
Individually these are both very powerful drivers of social change, but combined they are truly awesome in their ability to change our lives – hopefully for the better.
The Airline industry has been quick to identify the potential to engage with their customers using these new technologies. One of the earliest initiatives, now commonplace, is self service check in, either from a home or office PC, or performed using a smart phone.
Ownership of smart phones has dramatically increased recently. Results from the 2011 SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self Service Survey shows that the use of such ‘phones by travellers has doubled to 54%. Of those users, 74% are business and first class travellers.
Imaginative high-tech marketing can help tie customers very effectively to an airline.
KLM has been very creative in the way that it has embraced smart phone technology.
According to a report published by Brand eBiz, KLM recently launched an I-Phone application quirkily called “Shake and Travel” The user either inputs the preferred choices, and shakes the phone, and the application cleverly suggests a destination together with the ticket prices and flight information. A simple push of a button will enable the user to book the selected flight on line.
The more adventurous can simply shake the phone and take pot luck on where the phone suggests that they go.
The Dutch Daily News recently reported that KLM have introduced “Social Seating”, whereby passengers visit social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn to select as seat mate who shares a similar disposition and taste as them. This is a truly inspired piece of marketing!
Travolution also reports that KLM provides a Live Flight Tracking application which enables individuals to simply input a flight number and see the position of the aircraft displayed on a world map. Users can also check on flights operated by Air France and Delta Airlines.
In a further attempt to encourage passengers to bond emotionally with them, KLM have launched their “Passport” application, enabling passengers to convert photographs of their experiences into inspiring films.
United Airlines have cleverly chosen to integrate their loyalty programme, Mileage Plus, with the social sites Facebook and Foursquare, and are offering bonus mileage points to travellers who share their locations at airports throughout the United States. The passenger benefits from information about dining offers locally and gets a further fifty point bonus if check in is completed via the social site being used.
Emirates are also busy developing their Facebook application to enable them to emotionally engage with potential customers.
Oman Air is not slow to see the potential – they have just launched Facebook pages in four different languages to enable customers to leave feedback and remain connected.
The smart phone and online connectivity has had a seismic effect on the way in which airlines and airports conduct their business. Singapore International Airlines has withdrawn is self service check in kiosks at Changi Airport due to low usage – a direct consequence of passengers checking in for flights off-airport.
It’s not just the airlines who are embracing these changes. Passenger Terminal Today reports that East Midlands Airport in Nottingham, England is using an animated holographic image of a virtual Terminal Assistant, who reminds travellers of the security requirements for travelling through the airport. This “friendly face” delivers the security message in a very human fashion, and is probably easier than reading the requirements on a video screen.
In another first for an airport, Moscow Airport is reported as launching the world’s first check in that can be accomplished on a video link from the Skype internet telephone service. (Wall Street Journal).
Airline Loyalty programmes have been here for thirty two years in a virtually unchanged manner. However, they are now metamorphosing and being assimilated into a global marketing machine that will change the way that we travel forever.
Ask most people what they understand by the term “Internet”, and the majority will respond by explaining that the World Wide Web is accessed on their laptop computers, tablets, or smart phones to enable them to shop, communicate, and maybe conduct some research for business or educational purposes.
The expression “internet-enabled” is casually bandied about, referring to maybe a camera that will download photos automatically to a social networking site via the internet.
At the moment people access the internet, using a fixed dedicated interface device such as a desktop PC, Laptop, or smart phone.
However, the exclusive status is about to change, as more and more “inanimate” objects are being Internet enabled, becoming what is known as Ambient Intelligence.
The humble fridge in your kitchen may soon be able to assess stock levels, and reorder supplies when a preset level is detected. The vacuum cleaner may soon be able to communicate with a centralised home computer to decide which rooms require cleaning, and in what priority.
Your shopping basket may soon be enabled, and will monitor what products you are buying, and may look at patterns – maybe you are buying unhealthy food combinations, and may then upload this data to your medical centre, where your Doctor may be able to assess your diet.
Maybe government departments will monitor your spending habits to see if you are buying things that when used in combination may be dangerous.
Checking care labels on articles of clothing before loading the washing machine may soon become a thing of the past, as the item will have a microchip woven into the fabric which will communicate to the washing machine the required cleaning programme.
Already home management systems are on the market that enables a multitude of tasks to be automatically conducted with many of the functions being controlled remotely using a smart phone or a tablet computer, via the Internet.
The development of the Radio Frequency Identity Device (RFID) tag has had a profound and dramatic effect on the way we live our lives.
Initially developed for stock control and security purposes, this small chip may be programmed with a unique code that is associated with a particular product. The chip is passive, and will activate and transmit its code when interrogated by a reader device.
Stock may then be tracked within a warehouse, on board transport, and ultimately into the supermarket. It may be tracked again at checkout, and once paid for may be deleted from the system.
The same technology is used in bank cards, credit cards, Identity Cards, and documents such as passports and official documents.
If this technology is taken a step further, RFIDs may be attached to small inert chips, and placed under the skin of animals, and ultimately even human beings.
Even more chilling is the development of the Internet for security and control purposes. In the past, Governments had fairly limited means at their disposal to monitor its citizens.
Closed Circuit Television Cameras have been in use for decades, but have always relied upon human operators to monitor the captured film. Up until recently, the UK had the greatest number of cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world.
However, that is all about to change, and not necessarily for the better. The new Chinese city of Shenzhen already has a network of over 200,00 cameras monitoring its population of 12.4 million. Over the next few years, this is expected to increase to about two million.
In itself, this may not be so alarming, but when coupled with biometric data and RFID chip technology, this will enable a whole new concept in government control, and state intervention into private lives.
Facial recognition software has now been developed to the extent that it’s possible for computers to not only recognise an individual face, but also to interpret the mood or emotional state of the individual.
The covert monitoring of an individual’s body language and emotional state may be conducted by government agencies, and uploaded to powerful computers. Behavioural algorithms will analyse the data, and appropriate measures may be taken I. The event that adverse behaviour is detected.
This has both positive and negative aspects. A severely depressed individual, contemplating suicide by jumping off a bridge will naturally display strong emotional and physiological signals, which would be detected, enabling trained paramedics to be called to assist.
An individual contemplating criminal activity will also display behavioural markers that will trigger police officers to atend the scene.
However, what of the innocent individual who may be bored, mildly intoxicated, or awaiting a romantic liaison? They too may be targeted for intervention at some level.
In future, it may be possible for your local supermarket to monitor your internet enabled shopping trolley, and capture your facial image at the check out. The image may then be stored in a database containing your shopping profile.
It would then be possible for a network of cameras located in public places to recognise your image as you go about your daily business, and using your stored shopping preferences, display personally targeted advertisements on screens located, for example, on bus shelters, or mounted on the walls of buildings.
Individuals with medical conditions could be monitored effectively without the need for attending clinics at hospitals. Imagine if a pacemaker could monitor the state of a patients heart, and uplink real time data to a medical team. Early detection of a problem could result in the patient being called in for treatment before the condition becomes life threatening.
We have all become quite blasé about the internet, but it is very much a double edged sword. Used intelligently, and in a benign and sensitive way, it can improve the lives of everyone, empowering them to live a better quality of life.
Unscrupulous use of the internet by state governments for controlling the population leads to the undeniably sinister erosion of personal freedom.
Big Brother is out there – just waiting for the right moment to step in and take over our lives completely.
It is up to us, the general public to remain aware of the risks, and not allow ourselves to sleepwalk into computer controlled servitude.
Mark Charlwood MSc reserves the intellectual copyright to this work. Re publication of this work is prohibited without seeking permission.