Energy Consumption & Books

What follows is an article completely free of scientific information and may well prove to be completely inaccurate. That said, I think it raises some issues that need to be considered.

Which is more environmentally friendly: reading on paper or digital?

A paper book means that trees have been cut down to produce it, and they are generally heavier than eBook readers so require more energy to transport. But once it’s in your hands, the energy consumption stops.

The same isn’t true of digital reading devices. I will concede that the cost of producing the book (but not the reader) is probably lower than a paper book and that getting it to you likely takes less energy. But with eBooks, that isn’t the end of the story.

If I buy a paper book then I can read it again and again without any additional energy requirement. With an eBook, even if I keep it on my device and don’t have to download it again, I still need to provide energy to the eBook reader whenever I want to read it.

Maybe over the course of a week, month, year, the eBook would still come out on top, but over a decade? Over a lifetime? Longer? I can lend my paper book to any number of people without any additional energy requirement, that’s not possible with an eBook. Even if you could lend the title, the other person would need to have a reading device.

And a low power reader is probably the best case scenario for energy usage. What happens when you factor in the people who are reading books on tablets and phones and laptops?

The cost of manufacturing these devices needs to be accounted for as well. Creating a paper book requires cutting down some trees (which can be replanted) but creating a digital device of any kind requires the use of raw materials that can’t be replaced so easily and assembly in factories that may have unethical working conditions.

EBooks are undeniably convenient and as we move towards renewable sources of electricity and more ethical factory conditions, they may become a better way to read. Hell, like I said at the start, they might already be. What I’m trying to get at is that the conversation needs to take these things into account. A paper book uses a finite amount of energy in its creation and distribution, a digital book has an ongoing energy requirement. That’s what needs to be considered.

Writing Update April 2019

Its been an unsettled month for writing, but as I prepare to enter May, I have a plan and goals going forward for the rest of the year.

Firstly, the fantasy series

I have stopped work on the fantasy story I have mentioned before. The project wasn’t right for me. Although I enjoyed the planning process I just don’t love the genre enough. This became abundantly clear as I started writing the first draft.

I spent two months prepping the story and had planned for it to span three books. However, I don’t really consider that to be wasted time. It was enjoyable and it has taught me something about myself and the type of writing I want to do.

Secondly, novels

It is now the end of May and I don’t think I will be publishing a new novel in 2019.

Finally, my plans going forward

Starting in July I will be publishing a short story every month through to the end of the year. The first three are already in various stages of production. I am enjoying the work.

Once I have the six shorts for this year finished (or near enough) I will begin working on a new novel for publication in 2020. My plan at the moment is to publish a new novel every year, a short story every month and a blog post every week.

Although this is a lot less than I was publishing at my peak (about a novel a month) I have changed my production process significantly since then, which I believe will result in a much higher quality.

The weekly blogging won’t start immediately. For (at least) the length of May I will continue posting every weekday. My plan, however, is to gradually transition into longer weekly posts. For example, the recent posts about analogue / digital media might have been combined into a single longer essay. Alongside these “essays” I will likely continue publishing monthly updates like this one and, of course, announcements about new story releases.

Why I’m doing this

My number one goal with everything I publish is to make it good. My number two goal is to make the production process enjoyable. These changes are all geared towards these goals.

Connected

Once upon a time, not very long ago in the grand scheme of things, it took effort to get online. If we were fortunate then we had a computer at home and it was connected to the internet. But not all the time. If you wanted to go online then you had to go through the process of connecting to the internet. So you didn’t do it very often.

Now it takes an effort to go offline because connected has become the default state. We have phones, laptops, tablets and televisions that are permanently connected to the internet. It takes barely more effort than picking up the device.

Is this progress?

Perhaps.

But who does it benefit the most? Where has the drive to have people constantly connected to the internet actually come from?

I suspect, although have no way of proving, that if you’d asked people twelve years ago whether they wanted to have their phones connected to the internet all the time, a good proportion of them would have said no. Yet here we are.

It rarely benefits me to have the internet in my pocket at all times, but it’s there. Collecting data on where I’m going, what I’m doing, what I’m searching for and who knows what else. Selling that data to advertisers or using it to build a profile of me.

That is who it really benefits. To me it is just a constant nagging distraction that I would probably be better off without.

Editing & Publishing

Yesterday I started editing a short story that I wrote back in January. It doesn’t have a title yet. The idea is kind of Lovecraftian horror. I’m hoping to have it finished and published in May.

Usually I don’t leave such a long gap between writing a first draft and starting the editing. It is interesting to come back to a project after so long and read the words, which I know I wrote, and have them be unfamiliar. It is the closest I can come to reading my work with fresh eyes.

My editing process mostly consists of removing unneeded words and making my meaning clear when it might be confusing. I rarely have to change the structure of the story itself (although it isn’t unknown).

I will go through this edit and then do a proofread to try and catch anything I’ve missed. After that I will check spelling and then move it into the publishing process.

Originally I was going to submit the story to magazines, but I think I will publish it instead. That will mean I need to create a cover, which I do using images from Shutterstock and putting it together in Canva.

I have a word.doc template which I will paste the story into and then use the Draft2Digital tool to properly format for publication.

As I say, the story doesn’t have a title yet. Once I know what it is I will post something here with a link to pre-order or buy if you’re interested.

An Hour a Day

An hour a day doesn’t seem like long to spend online. But if you do that every day for a year then it’s fifteen days. I got the internet at 13 and the current average lifespan is 79 years, so let’s say I have internet access for 66 years over the course of my lifetime. At an hour a day that would be 990 days spent online. More than two and a half years.

Things get even worse when you look at the waking hours. Then it’s 20 days a year, or 1,320 over the course of my life. Three and a half years.

Unfortunately, that’s not even the end of the story. The average time spent online is four hours a day. Which is 5,280 days over a lifetime. Almost fourteen and a half years of waking life spent in front of a computer.

Just think what you could do with almost fifteen years of extra life.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think there are better uses of my time than to spend them in front of a computer browsing the internet. So that is what I intend to do; to spend that time more wisely.

Limits as a feature

I have been an Audible subscriber, on and off, since 2014. Because I now spend two hours a day commuting, I have a lot of time to listen to books. Last year I started looking around for alternatives.

The main reason for looking elsewhere was because I didn’t want to keep giving money to Amazon. I had already switched to Kobo for Ebooks. When I looked into it there were two main alternatives: Kobo and Scribd.

The first one I tried was Kobo but I had a lot of trouble with the sync, which, considering I was only listening on my phone, so it only had to remember the last position on that device, was a deal breaker.

Scribd didn’t have those problems. In addition it had a different business model, allowing me to listen to an unlimited number of books in a month at no extra charge, compared to one a piece for both Audible and Kobo.

I only listen to audio books on my phone and I try to use that as little as possible. So, while I was quite happy with the content available on Scribd, I also had access to Ebooks, magazines and documents. Which was far from idea.

My self-control isn’t great and having access to so much content meant I found myself scrolling through magazines and adding books to my lists. In the end I was spending more time doing that than listening to audiobooks, which is primarily what I wanted it for.

Audible, by contrast, only has audiobooks. I can search for books to add to my list, but I can’t buy them, so the feature has limited appeal. It does have some “shows” that I can download and listen to from within the app, but because of the playback (stopping after every 20ish minute episode and needing me to access the app to start the next one) I haven’t got much interest in these.

So yesterday I cancelled my subscription to Scribd and went back to Audible. I expect to continue using the service for some time. I now see the limits of the app as a feature because they mean I no longer have to stress my limited self-control. When I removed the Scribd app from my phone I felt a great deal of relief.

It has started me thinking that limits are an often overlooked feature of analogue tools. When I am using a notebook and pen I don’t have to make any conscious effort not to ALT-TAB over to a website. When I am listening to a CD I don’t have to avoid the temptation of searching for another album or scrolling through other songs.

Perhaps these limits may make some things more difficult: finding a new book to listen, finding new music. But the one thing they make easier, focus, is worth the sacrifice of a few extra steps elsewhere.

Walden

Why should we live with such a hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.

I have been reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. It was first published in 1854, but there are parts of it which are staggeringly relevant to the modern world. It is interesting that 165 years ago there were already people asking questions about the effects on news and information overload. It makes me wonder what Thoreau would have made of the world we live in today.

Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels.

After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.

What would Thoreau have thought about the habit many people have of reaching for their phone the moment they wake up? Or in the middle of the night? Is there really anything so important that we have to know about it the moment we open our eyes? Now we don’t even wait until breakfast to find out. We sit in our beds and scroll through news websites and social media feeds, allowing the news and other people to set the foundation of our day.

Petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality.

The nature of news now is darker than ever. We hear about all of the terrible things that are happening in the world and that is all we hear about. There is more to the world than that, but if we don’t know about it, if we just keep pumping ourselves full of negativity, then it must have some effect on how we perceive reality. How much worse must that be now when we have access to constantly updating news websites, Facebook and Twitter, than 165 years ago when all they had was a daily paper?

Fortunately, Thoreau has some advice that could be understood as what we now think of as a Digital Sabbatical:

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

How we used to use computers

The first computer our family had was a dirty grey Atari ST which we had to get out and connect whenever we wanted to use it. The only thing I can remember using it for was playing Chuck Rock with my sister. I was jealous of my friends who had a Nintendo NES or a Sega Master System. Sometime later I was given a Mega Drive for Christmas and after that the only place I used a computer was at school. A BBC Micro which we played a game called PODD.

At some point my parents bought a Windows computer, set it up in the middle room and connected it to the phone line so we could go on the internet.

Sometime before that I had developed an interest in the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. My dad – who had access to the internet at work – used to print pages of information about it. I would get excited every time he came home and handed me a pile of A4 paper with printouts from whatever website he’d found.

That’s how I continued to use the internet when we got it at home. With dial-up you couldn’t really spend long reading while connected (and on low-res screens you wouldn’t really want to) because there was a time limit. The connection would reset after an hour, or someone would pick up the phone and start shouting about the funny noises they could hear. It was inconvenient.

Now we have computers that are many times more powerful than that old Pentium III in our pockets at all times. We have constant high speed access to a vastly richer internet wherever we happen to be.

It is tempting to call this progress and be done with it, but lately I wonder if that is true. A part of me yearns for the simplicity of a single point of access. A methodology that requires a quick dip into the information stream to retrieve the things we want for later perusal away from the screen.

I don’t think this is a genie we can put back in the bottle on a large scale, but for the individual it may be possible. Once I have an office I intend to sell my iPad (my only “computer”) and buy a desktop machine. Using software such as Freedom I will put restrictions on when and for how long I am able to access the internet.

Perhaps this is all nostalgia but, as the rise of internet addiction becomes a bigger problem, I ask myself how many people were spending 36 hours a week online when all that had were slow dial-up connections and clunky desktop PCs?

The Scary Future of Technology

As a millenial, I am one of the last generation able to look at how the internet and smartphones have changed the world.

There are many benefits to both, but I am coming to the conclusion that the negatives may outweigh the positives. It is almost certainly mobile technology that has created the biggest negative. When the only way to get online was at a desktop computer the impact was minimal. This may just be nostalgia, however, it is possible that we will look on this era of smartphones with similar fondness in years to come.

Capitalism demands constant growth and, as the sales of smartphones plateau, the AR/MR/VR revolution seems inevitable. I see this as an apocalyptic scenario compared to what we have today.

People will no longer even have to take their phones out of their pockets to access the internet, it will be beamed straight into their eyeballs.

We are already being prepared for this world with smart watches, smart earphones and AR phone tools. It is only a matter of time before technology and business aligns. First there will be mainstream adoption of AR glasses, then contact lenses and one day we will no longer be able to tell what is real and what isn’t.

Part of me is excited about this because I’m an addict as well and the technology is undeniably cool. But I am struggling to retain enough perspective to be horrified by what the world will look like when all of this comes to pass.