Installation shows how data usage affects our ecological footprint

We rarely think about how all our internet and data usage actually does something to the environment. The last two years has seen a huge increase in data usage with a huge number of population staying at home, having online classes, endless zoom meetings, streaming movies and TV shows, crypto and NFT explosion, and other online things we do. There have been studies showing how much carbon dioxide is consumed with all this use so we need to be a bit more conscious about our ecological footprint.

Designer: Thijs Biersteker

The artist is known for his ecological artworks that create awareness about the current problems we’re facing. His latest art installation is called MB>CO2, a machine that shows the actual impact that online activities are having on the environment. There are three monitors showing a different activity on each one like a Zoom call, Spotify playlist, Netflix viewing, etc. They are then hooked up to a mini-computer which shows the calculations of the emissions for each of these actions.

The actions then trigger a release of carbon dioxide gas in a spherical terrarium with some plants. You will see the plants begin to visibly wilt as the carbon dioxide increases and as more internet activities happen. People can actually call into the installation so they can see the actual effect in real-time. The algorithm even takes into account where the caller is dialing in from and the hardware being used.

Of course, to show the impact of internet activity on the environment, you will also need to use the internet and devices. So the artist has tried to limit the impact of this installation by using recycled steel in the construction and choosing screens and computers with low energy consumption. He’s also limiting the operation of the installation machine to just half an hour every month to avoid actually killing the plants and limiting the carbon dioxide that will be released once the biotope is opened.

The purpose of the installation is to show the actual physical impact that internet use brings since it’s hard for us to visualize. All the electricity and energy that powers our devices and the data servers and centers contribute to the carbon footprints but we’re not really conscious of it. The artist is hoping that this installation will make us think about these things as we continue to browse the internet on our various devices.