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Climate change Ecological English Culture Environment internet Science Society Technology Uncategorized Work

Mobile Communications – the Big Question

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![1]

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.

I digress…

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.

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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,[2] 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.

Quite shocking when compared with global transport’s contribution of 23%! (World Health Organisation figures)

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.

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I am Guilty too – My Smartphone and Coffee Mug. Image Mark Charlwood © 2020

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.

[1] iPhone XR dimensions 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm 174gm

[2] Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi

Categories
CHINESE FOOD Elderly English Culture Nostalgia Old Friends Reunions Society Uncategorized

THE CHINESE CONNECTION

As a sixty-year-old, I am very privileged to live in an age where I have been able to maintain contact with old schoolfriends, college buddies and university alumni, in a way that my parents could never do.

I was chatting with my Mum the other day, who was wistfully talking about growing up in the 1930s, the disruptive and irretrievable loss of her youth to the war and the education that she subsequently lost.

She sadly referred to good friends – friends that she had when she left school at just fourteen, to go to work. Friends that she lost contact with over the years, and has never been able to find.

I recall sitting down with the old dear with my Facebook account (When I still had one!) searching, as she went through a litany of names. As would be expected I was unable to find any of her peers. Many were girlfriends, so probably would have married and changed names.

My Mum is reasonably fit and healthy, and is approaching ninety. She is highly unusual as she has a laptop computer, and happily uses email to stay in touch with her grandchildren. She shops on line, and is pretty savvy for a lady of her years.

I couldn’t say the same for many of her contemporaries, so even if they were still alive and kicking, there is no assumption that they would have an on-line presence.

I connected with one of my old friends some years back.

Some of you may remember Friends Reunited, which closed down in 2016 after sixteen years of operation.

Screenshot 2020-01-19 at 10.20.04I was sitting in my back room in about 2003, typing the names of old friends into the search bar, when I finally got a hit. I immediately emailed the lad whom I had last seen in about 1986 when we all went to see Queen supported by the mighty Status Quo at Wembley.

After about six weeks without hearing anything, I accepted, a little down-heartedly, that times move on, and maybe he no longer wanted to catch up with a life that was seventeen years previously.

I was somewhat surprised when some eight months later I received an email out of the blue from my old mate. Yes, he was keen to meet up, and was still in contact with the rest of the blokes.

It seems it was me that fell through the cracks, moved away and followed a different path.

Happily, we all met up at a pub in East Grinstead, and we picked up conversations as if it were yesterday, rather than almost two decades.

Subsequently, we have remained firm friends, and meet regularly every couple of months. We chat on WhatsApp or Messenger, or just plain text messaging.

So it was last Friday. We all met up in East Grinstead – initially in a little independent brew-house called the Engine Room,

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THE ENGINE ROOM, EAST GRINSTEAD

from where we all trooped down through the town centre to the Wing Wah Chinese restaurant.

Every member of our group of 8 has a fond memory of this particular restaurant. For me, it was the place that I took my very first girlfriend to on a date, way back in 1977.

The crazy thing is, that the waiter at the time, a young Chinese chap called Alan is now the owner of the restaurant.

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So – how the wheel turns!

Forty-three years later and I am being served in the same restaurant, in the same building, by the same man and sitting with the same bunch of blokes, discussing motorcycles, politics, and music and putting the world to rights.

Life’s Good!

Categories
Civil liberties internet privacy Society

The Internet of Things – Sinister Threat, or Powerful Friend?

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.

You decide.

Mark Charlwood
17/06/2014

Mark Charlwood MSc reserves the intellectual copyright to this work. Re publication of this work is prohibited without seeking permission.