Public/Private Spaces: Notes on a lecture

The class today was entitled Public/Private Spaces: Pulling things together, and had the idea of summing up the physical city part of the Civic Media course.

But before we could even go forward I needed to add an update to the earlier lectures on racial segregation. The article The Average White American’s Social Network is 1% Black is fascinating and not a little sad because of its implications.

In the meantime, whites may be genuinely naive about what it’s like to be black in America because many of them don’t know any black people.  According to the survey, the average white American’s social network is only 1% black. Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.

The actual beginning of class was a response to the students assignment to present three arguments for and three arguments against the Internet as a Human Right. In order to locate the discussion in the context of human rights I spoke of Athenian democracy and the death of Socrates, and the progression from natural rights to convention based rights. The purpose was both to show some progression in rights development – but also to show that rights are not linear and indeed contain exceptions from those the words imply. The American Declaration of Independence (1776) talks of all men

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

but we know that this was not true. Athenian democracy included “all” people with the exception of slaves, foreigners and women. So we must see rights for what they are without mythologizing their power.

In addition they cannot seen in isolation. For example the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) came as a result of the French Revolution include many ideas that appear in similar rights documents

  • Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.
  • Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else.
  • Law is the expression of the general will
  • No punishment without law
  • Presumtion of innocence
  • Free opinions, speech & communication

The similarities are unsurprising as they emerge from international discussions on the value of individuals and a new level of thought appearing about where political power should lie.

The discussion then moved to the concept of free speech and the modern day attempts to limit speech by using the concept of civility, and interesting example of this is explained in the article Free speech, ‘civility,’ and how universities are getting them mixed up

When someone in power praises the principle of free speech, it’s wise to be on the lookout for weasel words. The phrase “I favor constructive criticism,” is weaseling. So is, “You can express your views as long as they’re respectful.” In those examples, “constructive” and “respectful” are modifiers concealing that the speaker really doesn’t favor free speech at all.

Free speech is there to protect speech we do not like to hear. We do not need protection from the nice things in life. Offending people may be a bi-product of free speech, but a bi-product that we must accept if we are to support free speech. Stephen Fry states it wonderfully:

fryAt this point we returned to the discussion of private/public spaces in the city and how these may be used. We have up until this point covered many of the major points and now it was time to move on to the more vague uses. Using Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance by John Parkinson we can define public as

1.Freely accessible places where ‘everything that happens can be observed by anyone’, where strangers are encountered whether one wants to or not, because everyone has free right of entry

2.Places where the spotlight of ‘publicity’ shines, and so might not just be public squares and market places, but political debating chambers where the right of physical access is limited but informational access is not.

3.‘common goods’ like clean air and water, public transport, and so on; as well as more particular concerns like crime or the raising of children that vary in their content over time and space, depending on the current state of a particular society’s value judgments.

4.Things which are owned by the state or the people in and paid for out of collective resources like taxes: government buildings, national parks in most countries, military bases and equipment, and so on.

and we can define private as:

1.Places that are not freely accessible, and have controllers who limit access to or use of that space.

2.Things that primarily concern individuals and not collectives

3.Things and places that are individually owned, including things that are cognitively ‘our own’, like our thoughts, goals, emotions, spirituality, preferences, and so on

In the discussion of Spaces we needed to get into the concept of The Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin 1968) which states that individuals all act out of self-interest and any space that isn’t regulated through private property is lost forever. This ideology has grown to mythological proportions and it was very nice to be able to use Nobel prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom to critique it:

The lack of human element in the economists assumptions are glaring but still the myth persists that common goods are not possible to sustain and that government regulation will fail. All that remains is private property. In order to have a more interesting discussion on common goods I introduced David Bollier

A commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with a special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability. It is a social form that has long lived in the shadows of our market culture, but which is now on the rise

We will be getting back to his work later in the course.

In closing I wanted to continue the problematizing the public/private discussion – in particular the concepts of private spaces in public and public spaces in private. In order to illustrate this we looked at these photos:


Just a Kiss by Shutterpal CC BY NC SA

The outdoor kiss is an intensely private moment and it has at different times and places been regulated in different manners. The use of headphones and dark glasses is also a way in which private space can be enhanced in public. These spaces are all around us and form a kind of privacy in public.

The study of these spaces is known as Proxemics: the study of nonverbal communication which Wikipedia defines as:

Prominent other subcategories include haptics (touch), kinesics (body movement), vocalics (paralanguage), and chronemics (structure of time). Proxemics can be defined as “the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture”. Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist who coined the term in 1963, emphasized the impact of proxemic behavior (the use of space) on interpersonal communication. Hall believed that the value in studying proxemics comes from its applicability in evaluating not only the way people interact with others in daily life, but also “the organization of space in [their] houses and buildings, and ultimately the layout of [their] towns.

The discussions we have been having thus far have been about cities and the access and use of cities. How control has come about and who has the ability and power to input and change things in the city. Basically the “correct” and “incorrect” use of the technology. Since we are moving on to the public/private abilities inside our technology I wanted to show that we are more and more creating private bubbles in public via technology (our headphones and screens for example) and also bringing the public domain into our own spaces via, for example, Facebook and social networking.

We ended the class with a discussion on whether Facebook is a public or private space? If it is a private space what does it mean in relation to law enforcement and governmental bodies? If it is a public space when is it too far to stalk people? And finally what is the responsibility of the platform provider in relation to the digital space as public or private space?

here are the slides I used:

Design and Access to the City: Notes on a lecture

What is a city? Who gets to decide how it should be used and by which groups? In order to address this I began with two examples intended to demonstrate the conflict. I purposely chose not to use large scale examples.

The first example was in 2009 when the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was arrested for breaking into his own home. Despite being able to identify himself and that it was his own address the police “…arrested, handcuffed and banged in a cell for four hours arguably the most highly respected scholar of black history in America.”

The second example was Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker being accused of shoplifting and patted down by an overzealous employee at the Milano Market on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. This latter example is interesting because the market apologized and said of the employee: “He’s a decent man, I’m sure he didn’t mean any by wrong doing, he was just doing his job” “a sincere mistake”. An interesting thing about this is that if you search the term “Forest Whitaker deli” most of the hits are for the apology and not for the action itself.

These two minor events would never had come to the attention of anyone unless they had happened to celebrities with the power to become part of the news. They demonstrate that even among sincere well meaning people there are groups thought to have less access to the city.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an excellent op-ed called The Good, Racist People , which he ends writing about the deli:

The other day I walked past this particular deli. I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach. I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.

And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.

Following this introduction the lecture moved on to demonstrate the power of maps. I began with a description of the events leading up to Dr John Snow identifying the Broad Street Pump as the cause for the Soho Cholera outbreak of 1854.

Dr Snow did not believe in the miasma (bad air) theory as the cause of cholera and in order to prove that the cause was connected to the public water pump on broad street he began mapping out the cholera victims on a map. They formed a cluster around the pump.

pumpWith the help of this illustration he was able to show that the disease was local and get the pump handle removed. The cholera cases decreased rapidly from that point.

The immediate cause of the outbreak was the introduction of human waste into the water system – most probably from a mother washing an infected child’s diapers. But the fundamental reason for the huge death count was the lack of sewer and sanitation systems in this poorer area of the city. By insisting on the miasma theory the city could claim to be free from responsibility.

In the following part of the lecture I wanted to discuss how cities can maintain segregation and inequality of services despite the ways in which the rules are presented as fair and non-biased. In order to do this I used a list of maps demonstrating cities segregation by race and ethnicity created by Eric Fischer.

One dot for each 500 residents. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other. Images are licensed CC BY SA. There are several maps of interest and they are well worth studying. Here I will only present Philadelphia and Chicago:

Chicago: One dot for each 500 residents. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other.

Chicago: One dot for each 500 residents. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other.

Philadelphia: One dot for each 500 residents. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other.

Philadelphia: One dot for each 500 residents. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other.

As we are in Philadelphia I also included a map of household income (Demographics of Philadelphia)

 Median household income in Center City and surrounding sections, 2000 Census.

Median household income in Center City and surrounding sections, 2000 Census.

At this point I moved the discussion to the distinction between public and private spaces. I used definitions of these from Wikipedia

A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public squares, parks and beaches are typically considered public space.

To a limited extent, government buildings which are open to the public, such as public libraries are public spaces, although they tend to have restricted areas and greater limits upon use.

Although not considered public space, privately owned buildings or property visible from sidewalks and public thoroughfares may affect the public visual landscape, for example, by outdoor advertising.

As the distinctions between private/public will be discussed in depth in a future lecture I left this as a relatively vague discussion and went into the problems of two of our rights as practiced in the “public space”

Free Speech: Not wanting to delve into the theory of this fascinating space I jumped straight into the heart of the discussion with a quote from Salman Rushdie: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist” The point being that we don’t need protection to conform but we do need it to evolve. 

For this lecture I brought up outdoor advertising. This is an activity which is globally dominated by one corporation: The Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is probably the biggest controller of outdoor communication in the world. They have the ability to decide which messages are transmitted and which are not. They have accepted advertising for fashion brands which transmit harmful body images and even brands which have been accused of glorifying gang rape. For a look at this disturbing trend in advertising see 15 Recent Ads That Glorify Sexual Violence Against Women.

The messages being pushed out on billboards can arguably seen as a one-sided participation of the public debate. Changing messages (adbusting) or even correcting willfully false information on billboards is seen as vandalism. As a demonstration that something can be done I showed a clip of a report about the clean city law, where the city of Sao Paulo has forbidden outdoor advertising.

However, when Baltimore in 2013 attempted to introduce a billboard tax Clear Channel Outdoor argued that billboards should be protected as free speech by the First Amendment and this tax would therefore be a limitation of the corporations human rights.

In order to demonstrate the right of assembly I used the demonstrations at Wall Street where the desire to protest was supported (in theory) by Mayor Bloomberg

“people have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.”

Despite this sentiment the parks of New York close (even the ones without gates) at dusk or 1 am. This prevents demonstrators staying overnight. In order to circumvent this and continue the protests the demonstrators went to the privately owned Zuccotti Park where they could stay overnight. Eventually the protestors where dispersed when it was argued that the conditions were unsanitary.

Health hazard! by Seema Krishnakumar CC by nc sa

Health hazard! by Seema Krishnakumar CC by nc sa

The slides I used are here:


Cities and Suburbs: Notes on a Lecture

The lecture began with a short piece on population. The future of the world is urban centers and the population of the world will arrive at 10 billion people. This has nothing to do with large families. Because as Hans Rosling explains in this talk. We are not having more children but the the population is aging. He talks of “the big fill up”.

That we are moving from the countryside to the cities and have been doing so for a really short period of time. So while Urban settlements appeared around 3,000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley we were mostly country dwellers until about 2008.

In 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities, a figure that rose to 47% by the end of the twentieth century. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2007, this number had risen to 468. (Wikipedia).

Despite this there has been a long tradition of the viewing the city as a bad place and the countryside as a good place. In poetry we can see this trend as far back as to the bucolic poetry of Theocritus (c. 270 BC). Basically the city is unhealthy for both mind and soul.

Today the concept of the city is a space that is divided up into an inner zone which usually matches the boundaries of the old industrial city and suburbia, which was designed for the automobile, beginning from the 1920s.

One of the creators of suburbia (both as a concept and a reality) in the USA was the property developer William Levitt whose massive construction and development of whole regions spawned copies all across the country. In Levitttown home construction began in 1952 and 17,311 homes were built by 1958. At its peak, through an intense division of labor, the workers were building a home every 16 minutes.

A home in 16 minutes. Perspective – how long did it take for you to wake up and get dressed this morning?

Levittown was also a highly regulated space, designed to conform to the ideal of the American family. Among the rules were things like: no laundry hanging outside on Sunday, and no fences between properties. More seriously Levitt did not sell homes directly to African Americans. In 1957 an African-American family, the Myers, bought a home from the previous owners

Their move to Levittown was marked with racist harassment and mob violence, which required intervention by state authorities. This led to an injunction and criminal charges against the harassers while Myers and their supporters refused to surrender and received national acclaim for their efforts. Wikipedia

The dream of suburbia is also reflected in the ideology of the time. Personal property was good for the individual and for the society. The words of Sen. Charles Percy (1966) are interesting here:

“For a man who owns his home acquires with it a new dignity… He begins to take pride in what is his own, and pride in conserving and improving it for his children. He becomes a more steadfast and concerned citizen of his community. He becomes more self-confident and self-reliant. The mere act of becoming a homeowner transforms him. It gives him roots, a sense of belonging, a true stake in his community and well being.”

Indeed Percy is expressing what is to be considered the norm. This norm becomes that which is supported socially, economically and politically. If a society believes that home ownership is the keystone of society then it will invest in ensuring tax incentives for the creation of a wider base of home owners in society.

The ideal of the suburban homes has its most interesting expression in the front lawn. Naturally, our understanding of this artifact is colored by both our time and our space. But it is interesting to see that the large expanse of expensive green desert in front of peoples houses (in American suburbia) is never used, highly maintained and costly. It is all about signalling. This resonated with many students and stories of the ways in which neighbors are judged by the appearance of this empty piece of land were shared.

But the connection between private property and community involvement is under question. Salon Magazine reported on the increase in renting homes in USA and the way in which this does not signal the end of community:

Philly, a recent survey of renters conducted by the city found unexpected levels of social engagement. Planners were surprised by how many renters knew their neighbors, participated in neighborhood events and helped maintain the physical environment through volunteer work.

Indeed renting is the norm in many other countries and it is growing in the birthplace of suburbia. There is also a growing critique towards the ways in which suburbs are problematic on many levels. One suburban critic is Charles Marohn who is interviewed in The Suburbs Will Die: One Man’s Fight to Fix the American Dream

The “suburban experiment,” as he calls it, has been a fiscal failure. On top of the issues of low-density tax collection, sprawling development is more expensive to build. Roads are wider and require more paving. Water and sewage service costs are higher. It costs more to maintain emergency services since more fire stations and police stations are needed per capita to keep response times down. Children need to be bused farther distances to school.

The article was written by Leigh Gallagher whose book The End of the Suburbs came out in 2013.

Among the other critiques (environmental, social, economic) an interesting, and maybe counter-intuitive, study shows that suburbia may even be bad for your health. The Atlantic ran an article called “Do We Look Fat in These Suburbs?

“Garrick and Marshall report that cities with more compact street networks—specifically, increased intersection density—have lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The more intersections, the healthier the humans.”

streetsIn the last section of the presentation I moved on to the city and the users. Once again the point here is to show that there are “ideal” users and that those who do not conform are not welcome to the city.

We have talked about anti-homeless design or uncomfortable design in the last lecture Control By Design. But what I wanted to get on to was the ways in which the city is being used. The ways in which our public spaces are most probably not public anymore but they are privately owned and therefore no longer need to conform to the rules of the public space. Or rather they can be made to fit the ideals of the owner.

Showing the ways in which spaces are used in alternative ways I mentioned the case of The Hess Triangle

In 1910, nearly 300 buildings were condemned and demolished by the city to widen the streets and construct new subway lines. David Hess battled the city to keep the Voorhis, his 5-story apartment building. He resisted eminent domain laws for years, but was ultimately forced to give up his property.

By 1914, the 500-square-inch concrete triangle was all that remained of Hess’ property. As if his loss wasn’t bad enough, the city asked him to donate the tiny portion of concrete to use as part of the public sidewalk. Out of spite, Hess refused the offer. On July 27, 1922, he had the triangle covered with mosaic tiles, displaying the statement, “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes.” Atlas Obscura

And the Seattle nail house that seems to have been the inspiration for the movie Up. Edith Macefield refused to sell her house while a mall was being built around it. In 2006 she turned down US$1 million to sell her home to make way for a commercial development in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.

We closed the lecture by talking about strange little remnants of architecture and city planning: desire paths and Thomassons. The latter is

a term launched by Genpei Akasegawa in 1972, and refers to an architectural detail that is both completely and utterly useless, but is still being maintained. These steps in south Philly are an example:






And here are the slides I used

No further comment needed

Eloquently argued by Xeni Jardinat Boing Boing Birds drenched in oil from BP spill: photo gallery

bpspill.jpg bp2.jpg

In the Boston Globe‘s “Big Picture” this week: A series of heartbreaking images by AP Photographer Charlie Riedel of seabirds caught in the oil slick on a beach on Louisiana’s East Grand Terre Island. This is just the beginning of the destruction, and of the suffering and death for all manner of living things in the region. F*ck you, BP.

Disrespectful handling of digitalized cultural artifacts

On several occasions I have had the opportunity to discuss digitalization of traditional media. In particular to images that are no longer covered by copyright. Those who act as caretakers and gatekeepers for these cultural treasures have long been positive to digitalization – but were quick to discover that digitalization alone is not enough. The turning point of public opinion occurred when the Library of Congress began its pilot project with Flickr in the Flickr Commons. Read more about it on the Library of Congress blog or the report from the pilot.

Despite the anecdotal evidence, the gut feeling and the report some gatekeepers are still concerned about what will happen to “their” images if the plebeian mass can access them freely.

At first I thought their fears stemmed from a loss of income from selling prints, but this seems not to be their main concern even if some do refer to this. There main concern is the way in which the images will be treated.

They fear the disrespectful handling of digitalized cultural artifacts.

Now you may well ask yourselves how a digitalized artifact may be manhandled? Obviously it is not about destruction but there are concerns about use. The legal protection is long gone. The photographs are long since in the public domain and can be used and abused at will. This is of concern to the caretakers/gatekeepers since they have been entrusted with the images in physical form. In almost all cases they have received the photographs with a promise that they are preserving a part of cultural heritage. They believe that in their role as cultural preservers lies a duty to ensure that the photographers honor is not sullied by disagreeable online use.

And they know all too well that once digitalization and access has been granted there is no longer any control.

While I am a copyright minimalist and I think our protection terms are way too long I do feel there is a point here. How can museums and archives fulfill their duty to preserve what they have received in trust while maintaining their duty to provide access to culture?

Then I look at the work done by the Swedish National Heritage Board in relation to this question. They have put a small selection of their images on the Flickr Commons. A mere 274 photographs by Carl Curman (1833-1913).

The photographs have been accessed over 200  000 time since 17 March this year, that’s less than four months! Or 50 000 views per month (K-Blogg).

Besides pushing the almost unknown Carl Curman to a portion of internet fame the project at the Swedish National Heritage Board has brought back to life a set of dead photographs. Image how many times a photograph is seen in it’s lifetime. The average must be depressingly low. The most popular photograph in their project has been viewed 7805 times. Stop. Read the numbers and think. Seven thousand eight hundred and five times.

Stockholm by Carl Curman now seen by one more person: You…

Sure the photo will be ripped off. It will be posted on websites, stored on computers, used in presentations and the name of Carl Curman will be disassociated from the picture he took. Even more certain is that the Swedish Cultural Heritage Board will not be attributed enough for their thankless task of bringing this dead cultural artifact to life. But let us remember the old adage – no good dead goes unpunished.

The role of the caretaker/gatekeeper is, not a they once believed it to be, to prevent access. In the real world, grubby fingers and clumsy handling destroy the real artifact and lose it to the whole world. That is why we should be kept away from the real thing. But in the digital world the same is not true. What the flickr commons shows beyond a doubt is that while digitalization is good, it is nothing without access.

Ask Carl Curman.

Cool images of seeds and pollen

The Guardian maintains some pretty neat photo galleries – the photo below is from there. Actually I am pretty sure I saw someone like this at the bus stop yesterday!

These strange alien structures are among the seeds and pollen conserved at the Kew Millennium Seed Bank. Seeds from more than 10% of the world’s flowering plants – around 30,000 species – have been collected in the decade since the bank was established. Kew is celebrating this milestone with an exhibition Banking on Life (4 April – 13 September), and a book of electron micrographs The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers by Rob Kesseler and Madeline Harley (Papadakis, £35)

Global Earth Hour

WWF has launched a great effort to bring awareness to the environment – but can equally be used to bring about technology awareness. It’s the WWF Earth Hour.

The idea is to collect a billion people around the world who will switch off their lights for one hour all at the same time. This is the information for those in the GMT zone

On Saturday 28 March 2009 at 8.30pm, people, businesses and iconic buildings around the world will switch off their lights for an hour – WWF’s Earth Hour.

We want a billion people around the world to sign up and join in.

Sign up to show that you care about people, wildlife and the planet, and that you want the world’s leaders to take action to tackle climate change.

Some 934 cities from 80 countries have already signed up. In addition, a great number of iconic landmarks will be plunged into darkness, including Nelson’s Column, the Forth Bridge, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Eiffel Tower, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Table Mountain in Cape Town and Sydney Opera House. The London Eye, too, will be dimmed for the hour. Visit our ‘Who’s signed up to switch off ‘ page to find out more.

Please join us, and help us make this the biggest mass participation event ever!

Environmentalism and Class

On the one hand environmentalism is science – irrefutable and extremely difficult to interpret socially, but it’s solutions are not. Well so I thought but my eyes were opened a bit wider after reading Monbiot’s article Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on the connection between class struggle and environmentalism

If you understand and accept what climate science is saying, you need no further explanation for protests against airport expansion. But if… you refuse to accept that manmade climate change is real, you must show that the campaign to curb it is the result of an irrational impulse. The impulse they choose, because it’s an easy stereotype and it suits their prolier-than-thou posturing, is the urge to preserve the wonders of the world for the upper classes. “Cheap flights”, O’Neill claims, “has become code for lowlife scum, an issue through which you can attack the “underclass”, the working class and the nouveau riche with impunity.”(24)

The connection seems obvious, doesn’t it? More cheap flights must be of greatest benefit to the poor. A campaign against airport expansion must therefore be an attack on working-class aspirations. It might be obvious, but it’s wrong.

Working with empirical evidence Monbiot shows that the working class are not the primary users or even the intended users of cheap flights. The working class, it seems, does not fill the airlines of the world even when the tickets are priced at close to zero.

This is very interesting since confusing the science of climate change with issues of social and class justice are a wonderful way of creating counter arguments against “hard” science. If cheap air fares are not about class then the question is not about the “right to fly” but should be focused on making the travelers pay their own environmental costs.

Peeing women bad for the environment

The Vatican seems to have nothing better to do than to blame women for polluting the environment and male infertility.

The contraceptive pill is polluting the environment and is in part responsible for male infertility, a report in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said Saturday. The pill “has for some years had devastating effects on the environment by releasing tonnes of hormones into nature” through female urine, said Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, in the report.

It’s not enough for the church to have stupid religious reasons against the use of birth control it now feels the need to add quasi scientific motivations to support its arguments. Women peeing is obviously what we should be concentrating our efforts on rather than the tonnes of other environmental threats.

(via Feministing)

Can we save energy through Blackle?

So today I came across the site Blackle -which is basically a black version of Google. Black as in the background is black rather than white. The reasoning for this is found on their about page which states, among other things:

Blackle saves energy because the screen is predominantly black. “Image displayed is primarily a function of the user’s color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen.” Roberson et al, 2002

In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

So how should we react to things like this? Sure there is a minor saving and Yes a minor saving is not to be ignored. But (you knew that was coming didn’t you?) what is the point of the average wasteful consumer ignoring all other advice and then changing from Google to Blackle?

Taken on a larger level what is the point of minor energy conservation schemes in relation to the damage we are doing? Don’t get me wrong I truely believe in the importance of the accumalitve effect of small savings but in relation to energy and the environment I get the impression we are sometimes creating false feelings of contributing.

What do I mean? Well if the average (whatever that means) wasteful person feels like they are making a contribution to the environment by switching to a black start or search page then the net result saving is infinitesimal BUT the feelgood effect in the wasteful person will allow them to continue with the otherwise wasteful lifestyles and still claim to care and to contribute.

Or maybe I just a Monday morning cynic and this is an important step in awareness and energy savings…