I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. I had a great time, catching up with family and friends and eating way too much. But what I loved most was hanging out with my two girls. They are a constant reminder of the magic and wonder of the season and the value of a good box.
I bet any parent can acknowledge that the wrapping paper and boxes the toys come in are often more exciting and inspire more imagination than the toys themselves. It never fails - the most fun they have Christmas morning is traveling to far off destinations in the box. Hiding in or underneath the box tends to incite more giggles than any doll or toy airplane under the tree! Yet, with all the benefits offered by the box, it tends to be the first thing to go (in the recycling bin, of course).
So that got me thinking, what if we all made a concerted effort to extend the life of that box? There are some that are already on top of it - check out <a href="http://www.aboxlife.com/">"A Box Life" </a>, which is a program launched by Columbia Sportswear. It encourages the reuse of their packaging by helping customers track thier boxes when they use them to send items to another destination. Inspiring folks to see whose box can travel to the most or the farthest location. Pretty cool, huh? And if more companies/consumers took part, it could make a big difference.
Taking care of the earth is more important than ever. Living Green: The Missing Manual is an all-in-one resource packed with practical advice on ways you can help the environment by making relatively easy, earth-friendly changes in your home routine, work habits, and the way you shop and get around town. This book teaches you how a few small changes can have a big impact.<br /><br clear="left"></div><br />
Which got me thinking about all the other things we consume. There are the online services, such as Craigslist and Yahoo!, who have been helping users find other people that want and can use their old stuff for years; eBay has mastered the art of making old stuff as valuable, maybe even more so than new. And you may have heard of <a href="www.terracycle.net">Terracycle</a> and <a href="http://www.afrigadget.com/">Afrigadget </a>, which demonstrate how everything, and I mean everything, with a little ingenuity, can be reused in some form or fashion.
So, my question for us all in 2010 is "Can we be doing more? What kind of imagination can we apply to ensuring that boxes (and resources in general) are not overlooked for their usefulness? What extended life can we give to those things we create and what can we conserve in their creation?"
Technology, while providing a lot of efficiency advantages, is a big offender in terms of lifecycle impacts, <a href="http://blogs.zdnet.com/green/?p=9294&tag=content;col1">which I discuss at greater length in my book</a>. While there are many companies that have done a lot to reduce the environmental impact of their products, such as <a href="http://www.apple.com/macbook/environment.html">Apple</a>, there is still more to be done. How can we all take advantage of the advances of the digital age without having to upgrade every year?
We are going to need to retool not only the design of solutions, but also the business models of companies that rely on short deployment cycles. It also requires a readjustment on our part - as consumers - to look at how to extend the life of the things we purchase. Ultimately, we all need to do our part to reduce the resource consumption that occurs in the development, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal of each product we purchase. (With the world's population estimated to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, the strain is only going to get worse on all of our resources.)
We, excuse the pun, need to think more outside of the box to identify new, ingenious ways to use the things we have. Businesses need to drive efficiencies, which often translate into cost savings and potential competitive advantage, to create processes and solutions that extend the life and reduce the impact of those things they produce. Children don't see a box, they see possibilities. We need to do the same thing.
You will excuse me now - I have to go pull my girls around the floor in their "fancy" box!
The Information and Communciations Technology (ICT) industry (which refers to the full range of devices and applications that play a role in digital communications, from monitors and cell phones to PCs and storage devices) provides us all opportunities to make changes that can help address climate change issues. The potential is great - <a href="http://www.smart2020.org/">it is estimated that ICT could enable a 15% reduction in "business as usual" emissions by 2020</a>.
Yet that same industry is also responsible for two to three percent of the world's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That's not trivial. And, <a href="http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/11/the-sustainable-network-by-the.html">as I have pointed out before</a>, it only promises to grow in significance and scope.
As more and more of our activities are translated to the digitial world, we need to ask the question "Is the sustainable network unsustainable?" How do you balance 3+% of the world's emissions coming from a single industry with the potential to lessen environmental impacts of virtually every other industry? How do you slow down negative impacts, while accelerating the positive connections that improve our personal, business, and civic lives?
The key is ensuring exponential growth in ICT doesn't result in exponential growth in its impacts. The answer will need to come from the industry, itself. They will need to reduce the "in use" energy consumption of their devices and their lifecycle environmental impacts. These lifecycle impacts include the energy consumed in the device's development, production and distribution, as well as all the materials used to make and safely transport (packaging) the device, and the waste created at the end-of-its life.
There are a whole host of "knobs" a vendor can turn to improve the efficiency of their devices and the overall network. For example, equipment vendors can work to ensure the energy consumption of each and every device in the network is proportional to use. When it is in a hibernation or idle mode, it should not be pulling much power; as use increases, so should the energy consumed. This is an issue that has been addressed by many consumer devices (cell phones), but not the always-on networking devices - which tend to have only a 10% variance in consumption when there are a couple packets or a couple hundred thousand packets flowing through them.
The problem is that there are a lot of inefficiencies currently in the network. Just look at your home network (modem, router, access point, TV, etc.). Your DSL modem is most likely on all the time. If it is connected to a desktop, it will ping it periodically and keep the Physical Interface Cards (PICs) and other aspects of the computer alive, all of which means that energy is being consumed, regardless of whether or not it is being used - often at 60-70% of its peak power consumption. If the idle consumption could be dropped by just 20-30% that would represent a significant ongoing power savings for the home network, multiplied by the millions and potentially billions of households that could be affected.
Another issue, is the affect of heat on the equipment's reliability. To those responsible for their data center's operations, it will come as no surprise that air conditioning/chillers are the among the biggest consumers of energy in the data center. The energy draw of many devices, such as routers, switches, servers, etc. is actually the combination of its own consumption and the energy required to cool the device to keep it at a temperature that enables it to run optimally. Devices need to minimize their heat generation and/or be able to work "hotter," to require less cooling and less energy consumption.
In concert with the number of ways that vendors are working to improve the efficiency of their equipment, we, as consumers, need to start to ask the questions that will help us understand the impacts of this infrastructure. Then we should vote with our wallets when we pick our Internet provider or new smartphone, using environmental criteria in our buying decisions. (There are some firms, such as Synergy Research, <a href="http://www.abiresearch.com/research/1004203">ABI </a> and IDC that have started tracking the "sustainability" of equipment vendors and network providers. There are also some basic criteria that can be used to evaluate and compare the environmental impacts of consumer products, such as <a href="http://www.epeat.net/">EPEAT</a>.)
We should also ask ourselves how often we need to refresh our devices - is it absolutely necessary to get the latest and greatest phone or can we survive a year or two with an older model (reducing waste and churn). When we are done with our devices, we should make sure to recycle them, so that materials can be reclaimed and waste diverted. (<a href="http://www.globaltestmarket.com/survey/sframe.phtml?PHPSESSID=vipqejdcnq7shoca2oa7juj4j6&change=1&COLS=*,70%&frame_loc=http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com&inverted=0">SustainableLife Media </a>uncovered startling business statistics relating to proper recycling of e-waste - approximately two-thirds of respondents reported their companies have a formal IT asset disposal plan, yet about 15% admit that their company puts e-waste into the dumpster!)
ICT can be relied on as a tool to tackle climate change and promises solutions that can scale like nothing we have seen before. However, we all must do our part and push the boundaries to recieve the maximum benefit and leverage from the network and ensure it's sustainable.
I have a lot to be thankful for during this holiday season. Just watching the evening news for five minutes gives me the perspective that my worst days or problems pale in comparison to the struggles and pain of so many people in this world. Yet in that same news, I am also reminded that there is hope. Alongside the stories of atrocities, there are stories of triumph; stories of people, businesses and countries changing course and making a difference.
Being a glass half-full person, I find myseslf feeling optimistic about the possibilities. Why? Because I know we have the capacity and tools to make more and more of these positive changes. We have the newtork. And the network can help everyone and everything it connects maximize their potential.
It is bringing people together in ways never before possible, reinvigorating businesses, connecting people to their civic responsibilities, enhancing our general understanding of the world we live in, and creating opportunity and change on a global scale. It is able to create connections and develop communities that span all ages, races, beliefs and experiences.
These communities can be engaged in meaningful ways to make a real difference in this world. Using the connective tissue of the network we can do amazing things, from <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5GryIDl0qY">cleaning up a country</a>, to <a href="http://www.kiva.org">supporting the economic prospects </a> of fledgling entrepreneurs, to tackling <a href="http://www.webmd.com/">health</a>, <a href="http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/research/rice/overview.do">hunger</a> and <a href="http://laptop.org/en/">educational</a> issues, to generally <a href="http://www.globalteer.org/projects/">inspiring people </a>to <a href="http://www.oprah.com/entity/angelnetwork">take an interest and make a difference</a>.
"Activate" - it's a term I first associated with the network when I heard it during a panel at the <a href="http://www.californiawomen.org/">Women's Conference </a> on "Changing the world through the Web," but I think it captures the potential of the network. When leveraged to its best advantage the network can be used to connect people and resources to issues or problems that can be collectively tackled and hopefully solved.
The worry is that in this connected world, it is increasingly easy to retreat to the virtual world and not connect back to the physical one. There is a danger that we could rely too heavily on the network for our social interactions. When this happens, it is easy to be interested in everything but invested in nothing and the network's ability to create real change is diminished. People, places and causes must be personal if it is to lead to real world action; so the power lies in the network's ability to enhance life in the physical world, not replace it.
The network can help us reduce consumtion and improve efficiencies, strengthen our relationships with friends and family, increase our personal and professional development and opportunities, and help our fellow man whether they live next door or on the next continent. When it does these things, the possibilities are limitless and for that I am thankful.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace - these are all great social media services that enable people to stay connected. They create a space on the network that give people an opportunity to explore, share and discuss virtually anything.
As I discuss in my book, social media can be used to communicate, listen, research, entertain and create a community. And when activated, these communities can band together to make great changes - generating awareness, raising money, creating pressure and rallying support around critical issues, disasters and injustices.
Social media tools and services are only increasing in importance to us as we integrate them into almost every aspect of our work, personal and civic lives. But, as more and more people adopt these tools to help them reach out and stay connected, the question becomes are they being used in a way that truly enhances all of our relationships? Are they sustainable?
My own opinion is that it's too early for us to declare victory. There are too many questions that still need to be answered before we can leverage all these social media services and applications to their full advantage.
For starters, we need to better understand the implications associated with playing out more and more of our lives online. What does it do to our relationships? <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2009-09-04-facebook-etiquette_N.htm">What type of information should and shouldn't be shared, how frequently and with whom</a>? Where are the boundaries between our work and personal lives - to what extent should someone's job be impacted by their actions/posts/opinions on their personal social networking sites? (<a href="http://careeradvice.suite101.com/article.cfm/social_networking_and_your_professional_future">We have seen people hired through social networking connections and fired for their posts</a>.)
But while these sociological and etiquette issues are important to understand and fine tune, in my mind, the main caveats to social media revolve around security and privacy concerns. Most people use these tools without really understanding exactly what they are doing, revealing information that can be used in ways they never intended, which can be quite damaging.
It's one reason the U.S. government has banned solidiers from using Web 2.0 tools. Despite all the good they can enable, they are afraid that a soldier's security could be compromised because they know enemy's are watching and using social media tools to try to get an edge. The military issued a report warning "<a href="http://www.speakmediablog.com/2009/08/us-marine-corps-bans-soldiers-from.html">that terrorists could use Twitter via their cell phones to send and receive messages and to locate fellow cell members through links to Google Maps</a>."
It's another reason why security experts are predicting that social media services will increasingly be a <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/whitepaper/download/showPDF.jhtml?id=110300006&site_id=300001&profileCreated=">target for hackers</a> - all the personal information contained within these sites represents a huge bullseye, so to speak, for identity theives and fraudsters. We have already seen attack activity <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2009/11/spike_in_social_media_malware.html">go up</a> - beyond the recent Denial of Service attack on <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,537653,00.html">Twitter, there has been a host of <a href="http://blog.twitter.com/2009/01/gone-phishing.html">phishing</a> scams trying to get users to reveal personal information (usernames, passwords, account or credit card numbers)? And once attackers have access to your computer (through malware you may have unwittingly loaded onto your computer when you clicked on a link or opened an attachment) and have your information, they can do anything with it. They already are - just check out the <a href="http://www.fdic.gov/news/news/SpecialAlert/2009/sa09147.html">Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations Special Alert </a>on the increase they have seen in fraudulent electronic funds transfers over the past year.
But attackers aren't the only ones interested in the wealth of personal information being revealed through these sites. Marketers are enticed by the rich databases they can build to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their consumer targeting. Is it <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114163862">beneficial or an invasion of privacy </a>when these marketing companies pull together all of the personal information they can find from a variety of sources to try to determine what you want and how to get you to buy it from them? Would it be a service or an intrusion if a local restaurant advertisement were to pop onto your screen after you "Tweeted" you wanted to go grab a bite to eat?
Its for these reasons that regulatory agencies are struggling with creating guidelines that adequately balance an individual's privacy with a company or industry's ability to improve the relevancy of their dialogue and offerings. But we can't wait too long because that too has consequences. For example, the FDA has yet to come up with social media guidelines for drugmakers, which has left a gaping hole in the information available online relating to potential medical treatments. (There's a great BusinessWeek article "<a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_48/b4157064827269.htm">Why Drugmakers Don't Twitter</a>" that goes into the nebulous social media state of drugmakers - who are not sure whether they have a right or responsibility to correct erroneous information online or reach out to their patients in mediums that they are most likely using - YouTube, Twitter, etc.)
All of these issues - security, privacy, regulatory - are holding back social media tools from truly sustaining positive relationships and change. We need to address them quickly so we can appropriately and responsibly use these tools to their full advantage. When we do - great things can happen.
I would like to take a moment to recognize this year's <a href="http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/">Nobel Prize winners in physics </a>and highlight the role they played in advancing the sustainable network. Americans Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were all instrumental in progressing the network, which has turned into one of the most powerful tools we have available to create change around the world.
Kao was honored for discovering how to transmit light signals long distances through hair-thin glass fibers. If you have fiber cables delivering the services from your telephone switch directly to your home or building then you have benefited from this discovery. You are enjoying a high bandwidth connection that allows you to take advantage of all the network has to offer.
To date, <a href="http://www.pyr.com/downloads.htm?id=1&sc=LR020909_FBR">only 6% of all households </a>worldwide have access to fiber cables (primarily in the Asia-Pacific region). Investment in fiber will need to continue as it represents one of the best options we have to date to handle the future bandwidth requirements of home users - there are predictions we could need as much as 30 Gbit/s per household, in 2030, due to all the video, voice, gaming and data we will be consuming (check out <a href="http://www.ftthcouncil.org/">Fiber to the Home Council</a>).
Boyle and Smith received the prize for opening the door to digital cameras by inventing a sensor that turns light into electrical signals. This breakthrough has enabled the digitization of much of the world's resources and has truly revolutionized how we consume, manipulate and store digital images. It's what allows us to zip mass amounts of digital images all around the world - personalizing events and creating new connections in virtual real-time. It's one of the drivers repsonsible for the <a href="http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-481360_ns827_Networking_Solutions_White_Paper.html">doubling </a>of Internet traffic every 18 months...
Both of these inventions have been instrumental in fueling the growth and utility of the network, which in turn fuels it's relevancy and spurs ongoing innovation. I call this in my book the Sustainable Network Law: The more broadband made available to network users, the faster sustainable network innovation occurs. It's a virtuous cycle.
So, which innovations will be next on the Nobel Prize list? Perhaps it will be a new way to make sense of all this digitized information (see interesting story in the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/technology/12data.html?_r=1&th&emc=th">NY Times</a> - is there such a thing as too much information?). Maybe it will take the form of a new way to access the network or <a href="http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/news/solar-cell-phone-towers-hold-promise-for-rural-customers/">power</a> it? Which will be game changers that drive new and better ways for the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/business/08count.html">network</a> to connect the world's people and resources? Only time will tell, but with all the world connected and working on it, imagine the possibilities.
We all know the network is everywhere. It's pervasiveness is what makes it the most endearing platform we have to address many of the issues we face today.
Thanks to the convergence of increasingly affordable, powerful and mobile devices, access to the network has spread out and infiltrated parts of the globe that have typically remained impervious to previous technology advancements. And once present, the network has an uncanny ability to create opportunities, deliver efficiencies, and spur innnovations that leave us all craving more. It connects people, thoughts and things in new ways that, in turn, drive additional connections, uses and overall network adoption. It's a virtuous cycle that we witness every day as the network grows, morphs (and moves - given its increasingly mobility), and then grows some more.
There are some interesting numbers that I've heard recently that I wanted to highlight to articulate the scale and scope of today's network. (See <a href="http://www.morganstanley.com/institutional/techresearch/internet_ad_trends102009.html">Mary Meeker's Web 2.0 Presentation</a> for a bevy of interesting stats.) Let's start with the fact there are close to 1.7 billion Internet users in the world (the actual number can be found<a href="http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm"> here</a>) - representing almost one quarter of the world's population.
Who are they and what are they doing? They could be one of the 445 million YouTube users, who watch one billion videos each day and publish more than 20 hours of video each minute. Or they could be one of the users responsible for the 5000 "tweets" sent every minute via Twitter to individuals, Web sites and news feeds across the network on anything and everything. Or they could be one of the 200,000 entrepreneurs around the world who have benefited from loans funded by more than 550,000 people that have logged into Kiva.org to make a difference through microfinancing (according to Kiva's Premal Shah at the <a href="http://www.californiawomen.org/">Women's Conference</a>). Or they may be one of the many that are going online to engage in <a href="http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1328/online-political-civic-engagement-activity">political discussions </a> (1 in five of American Internet users), <a href="http://www.bazaarvoice.com/resources/stats">ask a friend's advice on their next purchase</a>, or search for health and medical information (<a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2009/The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx">61% of American adults</a>). The possibilities are limitless.
The fact is that more and more individuals, businesses and governments rely on the network to facilitate more and more of their daily activities. A trend that will continue and likely accelerate, particularly as smartphones and mobile devices make it easier and easier to access the network from wherever you are, whenever you need it. Meeker laid out the prediction that global IP mobile traffic is likely to grow 66 times by 2013 and mobile data users will triple to 1 billion by 2013.
However, the rapid adoption of all the devices the network connects and all the applications (particularly video and rich-media services) the network supports has also caused some predictions of an inevitable crash - a "network driven" apocalypse as <a href="http://www.web2summit.com/web2009/public/schedule/detail/9259">Juniper Networks CEO</a> joked in the middle of his Web 2.0 presentation. But in all seriousness, this other side of the network equation can be worrying. In his presentation, Juniper's CEO asserted the economics of the Internet could break in 2015. Analyst firm Nemertes has predicted <a href="http://www.nemertes.com/networking_telecommunications">that network demand is on a path to outstrip capacity by 2012</a>, if not sooner. We have already seen <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/technology/companies/03att.html?_r=1&ref=technology">capacity strains</a> on certain networks. Then the are the numbers surrounding <a href="http://www.oecd.org/document/16/0,3343,en_2649_34223_42276816_1_1_1_1,00.html">malware</a> and the increasingly sophisticated network attacks that can cripple individuals, businesses and governments (remember <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/security/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219400248">Georgia</a>?).
Without appropriate investment in secure, infrastructure build outs the adoption, innovation and ability of the network to sustain change are threatened. The good news is that these are not new threats to the network - network providers have been dealing with a doubling of traffic every 18 -24 months (check out <a href="http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/qa_c67-482177.html">Cisco's Visual Networking Index</a>) and security vendors have been focused on keeping hackers and at bay (see <a href="http://www.cert.org/stats/">CERT</a>) for the past decade. What's different today is the scale.
Due to it's pervasiveness, the possibilities and threats to the network are at a level we have never seen before. Will we be able to rise to the challenges and ensure the network's numbers equal ongoing opportunities? Only time will tell. But consider us all on notice.
I attended the <a href="http://www.womensconference.org">Women's Conference 2009 </a> today in Long Beach and listened in admiration to the many tales of triumph and hope that I heard throughout the day. There are so many phenomenal women doing it all - literally - from <a href="http://www.janegoodall.org/">Jane Goodall</a> and <a href="http://www.somaly.org/?gclid=CKnYxriK350CFRHxDAodpwifNQ">SomalyMam</a>, to <a href="http://www.fdic.gov/about/learn/board/board.html">Shelia Bair</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Couric">Katie Couric</a>, to the women who sat at my table and next to me in the break out sessions. These are all women who are making positive choices and taking on causes that strive to improve the lives of people within their families, communities, companies and even countries. These are women who have or are overcoming hardships, breaking down barriers, questioning status quos and are unaccepting of "no" or "can't" as answers. They are managing the chaos and finding meaning and goodness in seemingly impossible situations. They are truly inspiring.
One thing that weaved its way through the day for me was how much the world has and is continuing to change. One panel with <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_Albright">Madeleine Albright</a>, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/holmes.amy.html">Amy Holmes</a>, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/staff/valerie-jarrett/">Valarie Jarrett </a>and <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=126398&page=1&page=1">Claire Shipman</a>, moderated by <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3688588/">David Gregory</a>, discussed "How a Women's Nation Changes Everything." It drew on statistics from the <a href="http://awomansnation.com/execSum.php">Shriver Report, </a>which covers the social transformation currently taking place as the result of women comprising half the workforce and being the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American households. The discussion centered around the implications of these statistical truths not only in business, but in government and for the family unit. Questions around potential corporate support infrastructures, management styles, spousal negotiations and the evolving role that both men and women would need to play in this new work and home reality all emerged.
And the network too played its role. It was not a surprise to me when Madeleine Albright pointed out that with all the new enabling technologies available to us today, the old paradigm of punching a time clock no longer need apply. Mothers, who used to have to choose between their career or being a stay-at-home mom can now make a more integrated decision - one that allows them to contribute in a variety of ways to a variety of constituents. They really can be architects of change - and create the life they want to lead.
People can work from anywhere at anytime, giving them greater flexibility and an ongoing lifeline to both their work and personal lives. By the way, telecommuting has also been shown to increase productivity by up to 30%; so not only are companies able to attract, retain and harness the value that working mothers bring to the table, they are also able to increase the proficiency of those employees.
The mobile phone, blackberry and facebook have replaced the microwave and vacuum cleaner as the most essential technological devices for any mom, allowing them to stay connected to work, friends and family as they go about their daily activities and obligations. There are social media services, from mom's groups to consortiums, that are being used to create support networks that provide valuable resources, tips and efficiencies for women trying to juggle it all.
The newtork is also lowering the barriers of entry into markets, helping women with the entreprenuerial spirit blaze their own trail. Business owners can cost-effectively attain customers through viral (word of mouth) marketing efforts and serve a global audience through their online presence. They can bring their own unique perspectives to the market and deliver goods and services that customer needs on their own terms, generating opportunity and potential prosperity in the process.
The world is certainly changing. And as women evolve their role, the network will continue to play its supporting part to help them find balance, take control and follow their dreams.
We are currently in a pivotal point in our world's history - the choices we make today will impact future generations. We need to change our consumptive habits, adjust our resource dependencies and create more sustainable social, economic and political models. To do this, we will need the network, which represents the only tool available right now that has been able to permeate all parts of the globe to create opportunities for improvement and action.
It will take everyone - so we all must understand it and then figure out how to use it to best shape the changes we want to see. This is one reason I set out to write <a href="http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157043/">TheSustainable Network</a> - to try to create some awareness of the role the network plays in our lives, businesses and governments - in hopes that with understanding we can collectively innovate and better leverage this amazing connective tool to really affect change.
While long-term, transformative solutions involve the collective whole, meaningful progress often starts with a lot of little changes at an individual level. So in answer to the question I often get asked, "What can I, as an individual, do right now to better leverage the network and be more sustainable," I have these 10 suggestions:
Of course these represent only a small sampling of the things that we can each do. Then there are the broader industry (<a href="http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/ccsi/pathways_low_carbon_economy.asp">McKinsey</a> has a report that names no less than 200 opportunities for industries to use the network to reduce their impact), country and <a href="http://www.eenews.net/special_reports/copenhagen/">international</a> efforts that will leverage information communications technology in their initiatives to achieve sustainability goals. The fact is we are just at the beginning of using the network to it's full advantage - the potential lists of what's possible are only just starting to be written.
Net neutrality is a principle designed to ensure individuals can access the Internet to get the information and resources they want without discrimination. That's good. As I discuss in great lengths in<a href="http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157036/"> my book</a>, unfettered access to the network can spur opportunity, innovation and prosperity for all. It's required to ensure the network can be a sustainable platform for change - with the potential to continue to improve the way we live our lives, conduct our politics, run our businesses, and impact our planet.
But, as with most things, the devil is in the details and what net neutrality really comes down to is government control and economics. How much control should government have over the running of the Internet? How do operators profit from the investments they make to build out the network? Of course, the intersection of these two questions is central to the debate.
Yesterday, the <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/172312/fcc_chairman_calls_for_formal_net_neutrality_rules.html?tk=rel_news">FCC</a> proposed rules that would create more government control over the Internet and force Internet providers (including wireless) to treat all Web traffic equally. This would mean they couldn't block or slow traffic, presumably to prevent providers from treating competitors content differently and to make sure consumers have the freedom to use their computing devices to access any and every service they want. Again, in principle, that's a good thing. However, it may have unintended consequences.
The reality is it could end up affecting the experience that we all have on the Internet. As you have probably heard, traffic on the Internet is doubling every two years (check out <a href="http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-481374_ns827_Networking_Solutions_White_Paper.html">Cisco's Visual Networking Index</a> for some mind-boggling stats on the growth of the network) and it takes investment to make sure that enough broadband is available to support all of that traffic. In many cases, it necessitates adding capacity and upgrading the underlying network, in other scenarios, it is about extending the reach of the existing network to a greater percentage of the population. To date that investment has been primarily taken on by the private sector, namely the Internet providers themselves.
These providers have been responsible for building out the infrastructure (from the wires/fiber optic cables to the routers, switches, etc.) and managing the traffic flowing through the network to ensure the experience is predictable and satisfactory. They would like the option to slow or limit the traffic of bandwidth hogging users or applications when they threaten to affect and degrade the access for all. This is becoming a very real problem as more and more users adopt media-rich applications and the providers (particularly on the wireless side) struggle to build out their networks to keep up. Just look at the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/technology/companies/03att.html?_r=1&scp=15&sq=network%20security&st=cse">recent New York Times article </a>on the iPhone's affect on AT&T's network.
The problem is that, unless the service providers can identify additional revenue to justify the build out, there will be no incentive for them to do so. Typically, the Internet service providers, which have been regulated by the government, collect flat monthly fees, from customers for access to the network. The pricing structure may vary based on the type of connection that's available to that customer in that area, but there is no real difference in price between the customer that uses the Internet to send a few e-mails and the customer who spends all their time playing "<a href="http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/index.xml">World of Warcraft</a>." The difference, however, to the provider is distinct - the more customers who adopt these bandwidth-intensive applications, the more capacity and bandwidth they will need to add and that requires identifying revenue streams to justify it. Now, the proposed plan does not prevent providers from changing their pricing plans or charging high-volume users more for their service. However, we all know that consumers tend to not want to spend more for things they are already getting now (we are fickle that way), so this could be a difficult sell.
What has started to happen (in regular market conditions) is that the providers have begun to establish relationships with with some content providers (who tend to be on the pro net neutrality side) to make sure user's experiences are satisfactory. We are seeing some revenue sharing that could (for example, <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/139810/amazon_kindle_finds_a_new_use_for_3g.html">Amazonand Sprint's deal</a> or <a href="http://www.searchenginejournal.com/yahoo-att-expand-advertising-partnership/6308/">Yahoo! and AT&T's </a>partnership) provide mutual benefit and ongoing incentives to build out the nework. However, these kinds of deals could be at risk depending on the details of net neutrality regulations.
There needs to be a way to protect the connections of everyone, which necessitates managing the flow of the traffic and most likely some prioritization. The irony is that once the network is upgraded to broadband connections, the capacity will be much greater and the need for "favoritism" diminish; but if this favoritism isn't allowed, the networks most likely won't get upgraded or built. And the very thing that network neutrality is intended to prevent - zero-sum discrimination - is the very thing that could result.
Sarah is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet. The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.
I had the privilege of hearing <a href="http://www.thomaslfriedman.com">Thomas Friedman</a>, the three time Pulitzer Prize winner, speak this past weekend on his latest book <em>Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America</em>. It is a follow on to his last bestseller <em>The World is Flat</em>, which describes a new era where, thanks in large part to innovative technologies such as the network, individuals have an opportunity to participate in the global economy and shape their opportunities like never before. But, as Friedman points out, this accelerated globalization is presenting us all with new challenges and opportunities that need to be met head on if we want to sustain our planet and way of life.
Take our rapidly growing population - the <a href="http://www.un.org/esa/population/unpop.htm">U.N.</a> predicts that in 2050 there will be 9.3 billion people, up from today's 6.8 billion, with the majority of that growth coming from the developing nations. All of whom are increasingly <a href="http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm">connected</a>, thanks to the pervasiveness of the network and the increasing availability of cheap and powerful computing devices - think Internet-connected phones. And, in the best of circumstances, able to compete and improve their quality of life, so that it is comparable to those in the developed world (Friedman calls this "becoming Americans"). These forces are converging to place unprecendented strains on resources, stretching the natural capacity and limits of our planet. They are manifesting themselves in climate change issues and biodiversity depletion, as well as geopolitical problems (where those that control the energy supply have undue influence and those that do not have access to reliable energy are unduely cut out of the global conversation).
To address these problems, many, including Friedman, call for an Energy Revolution. One that leverages clean energy systems to drive economic growth and sustainable living. The primary focus centers on the new energy technologies (ET) - wind, solar, wave - that will need to be refined or invented and then mass produced to reduce dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source. But just as important, will be the information and communications technologies that will combine with the ET to create more efficient and stable energy systems. (Note, Friedman touches on the role that information technology plays in his chapter The Energy Internet.)
Because it's not about simply replacing one energy source with another, it's about ensuring the most efficient use of those precious reources. Predictions place demand for energy growing 1.6% a year on a global basis - some have today's demand <a href="http://www.itron.com/pages/solutions_detail.asp?id=itr_016422.xml">increasing by as much as 54 percent by 2025</a>. In the U.S. alone, electricity demand is expected to grow by 141,000 megawatts in the next decade, yet only 57,000 megawatts of new energy resources have been identified. So, in concert with making radical changes in our energy supplies, we need to be much smarter about how we consume those supplies to ensure we can sustain growth and opportunities for all.
This is where Information and communications technologies (ICT) comes in. For example, the goal of an Internet-based "smart grid" is to do just that. Smart Grids grids are designed to modernize energy generation and distribution to make it more efficient and more reliable, feeding intelligence into the system, so that individuals, businesses, utilities, and governments can all make more informed consumption decisions (take a look at <a href="http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/energy/smart_grid_solutions.html">Cisco</a> and <a href="http://www.silverspringnetworks.com">Silver Spring Networks</a> for some examples).
With innovations in ICT a lot of things are possible to promote sustainability. Smart buildings, intelligent transport systems, water table management, and just-in-time supply chains, represent just a sampling of the current efficiencies enabled by ICT, leading to better resource management and significant potential carbon emissions reductions globally (See <a href="http://www.smart2020.org/">Smart2020Report</a>).
Change needs to come if we are to sustain our planet and standard of living, and it will take innovations in both ET and ICT to make that change a reality.