My mom recently got a Kindle as a gift. For those of you not in the know, the Kindle is the latest in the line of e-readers: devices that allow you to electronically download and read books, magazines, and newspapers.
My mom has always been a big reader, so she was weary of this device that was supposed to take the place of her books. But within the first week she was hooked and now does almost all of her reading through her Kindle.
Around the same time my dad decided to sort through his massive CD collection to see what he could sell. Out of his 400 CDs or so he eventually decided to sell more than half of them. He said there was no reason to hold onto them since all the music was stored on his Itunes.
Both of these events were extremely surprising to me. First of all, I couldn’t believe my parents owned Kindles and iPods and I didn’t. More importantly, I was surprised to see my parents so willingly give up items that were so near and dear to them, their books and CDs, in exchange for their electronic counterparts.
Besides the obvious argument that any new technology is good technology, the leading reason most people support the transition from print media and material goods to the digital realm of the internet and iTunes is because it saves resources, and thus is better for the environment.
Paper isn’t turned into books and plastics aren’t wasted on CDs and covers. Not to mention the amount of energy put into transporting, stocking, selling and repairing these things.
With those factors in mind, it does seem like the naturally better choice to move from the tangible to the immaterial digital copy. But, the digital copies are not without their own consequences.
What about the amount of energy needed to create the machinery, the Kindles or iPods? Certainly there is a decent amount of water, oil, and other resources used in that process. And then there is the energy used to power those items and to keep them charged.
A Kindle might need charged every two and a half days and requires so much energy per charge. Compare that to a paperback book: once the book is created it requires no further energy, and can last a hundred years if properly cared for.
A Kindle, even kept in the best condition, has a shelf life of maybe 10 years. And even that is a stretch with the way technology is constantly being updated.
And then there is the matter of waste. Books, though full of precious resources (or maybe because of it) have one advantage: they will degrade much faster than any electronic waste. Electronics degrade at a much slower rate especially if they are not disposed of in the proper fashion.
Our society does not have a great system in place to deal with electronic waste, and as we continue to progress towards a more digital world we need to keep this in mind. We must adapt to our new consumerist habits and learn how to properly manage our waste whether it’s natural or digital.