Our data consumption is growing at an exponential rate. Almost everything we do produces data, from swiping credit cards to emailing, requesting directions to dating. All this data flows into an invisible 'cloud'.
Yet this cloud is far less fluffy than we think, occupying swathes of land to house giant data farms and consuming huge amounts of electricity. Today global data centers use more energy than the entire UK, and by 2025 they will use more than 20% of our Global Energy.
In a post-industrial age of information, data is the new oil, and companies that deal in data are the largest in the world. Just like oil before it, our demand for data has a serious impact on the environment. The greenhouse gases emitted by data consumption already rival the aviation industry, and look set to grow exponentially.
We’re locked into a new consumption cycle, driving us towards a future of Data Warming. Our ecological awareness might be rising, yet our behaviours and technologies seem to lead us towards the same outcomes. How can we intervene and draw attention to something as seemingly abstract and immaterial as data consumption, before it’s too late, again?
Through our continuous usage and reliance upon connected devices and ICT infrastructure, our data archives continue to grow. By the beginning of 2020, the number of bytes in the digital universe was 40 times more than the number of stars in the observable universe. Much of this data, videos, photos, and messages lies dormant on servers, forming a type of ‘digital waste’. This waste not only occupies computing and physical resources, but also consumes energy contributing to the climate crisis through greenhouse gas emissions.
As our demand for data grows, we use more and more land to house the silicon, metal, concrete, plexi-glass, tiled, nonhuman, ultra-low-temperature environments that are home to the data-servers that power the apparently intangible cloud. These server farms are the location of the next oil-rush and the next ecological disaster.
Working with nature to alleviate the threat of ‘Data Warming’, Grow Your Own Cloud creates a new materiality around data. We imagine a world in which data storage absorbs CO2. Where data can be shared through pollination. Where a data centre could grow data in your backyard.
Through this research work, we look to propose alternatives to the current systems of storage, processing and monetizing of data. Currently ownership of our data is largely under the realms of large corporations (GAFA) who store the data in enormous facilities far flung from the location of the initial user.
We seek to establish a new type of cloud that offers a more tangible and intimate relationship with data. A cloud that encourages people to take care of their data. A climate first approach to the development of new data storage technologies which promote regenerative futures.
To do this, we work with a new type of Data Science, using the oldest storage device in the universe - DNA.