The impacts of domestic media and ICT : a study of digital technology, energy consumption, data demand and everyday practice

Bates, Oliver Emile Glaves and Hazas, Mike (2015) The impacts of domestic media and ICT : a study of digital technology, energy consumption, data demand and everyday practice. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The growth of domestic energy and emissions impacts correlates with growing digital technology (e.g. ICT, consumer electronics) domestication and usage. New and ‘smarter’ technology, cloud based services, and on-demand content are reshaping how, when and where digital technologies are drawn upon, with the trend being one of escalation for manufacturing (more devices purchased more often) and network reliance (more and more services are becoming ‘cloud’ oriented). This escalation raises concerns over the environmental impacts of domestic digital technology, due to its use more frequently, and across more social practices. Motivated by this growth, there is now an even greater need to understand the underlying social situations and expectations that predicate certain ways and intensities of ICT in practice. The expectations of others, obsolescence (designed, or otherwise), changes of circumstances, life transitions, quality of experience, and expectations of technology all put pressure on users (or practitioners) contributing to the reshaping of social practices that involve digital technology. Previous focus on eco-feedback and behaviour change, along with more current understandings of digital technology variation and escalation, are not terribly insightful or necessarily linked to demand. Due to this, the variations in social practices, and the links to the varying energy impacts of households, are often overlooked. To move towards an improved understanding of digital technology’s role in social practices there is a need for both increased understanding of that role, and how these practices link to energy and emissions impacts. By improving this understanding it is possible to uncover the contexts in which energy demand occurs, and where it may be possible to lower energy demands. Through understanding the contexts of digital technology in social practices it is possible to gain deeper insights into the reasons for demand and impact variation. To date there has been no application of a method that links qualitative (e.g. semistructured interviews, photo elicitation) and quantitative data (e.g. per-device consumption data, per-application network traffic analysis) to provide a full understanding of how digital technologies are implicated in domestic social practices and energy demand. Based on mixed methods research, the three main contributions of this thesis collectively demonstrate how researchers and designers can gain a more nuanced understanding of the energy and everyday life impacts that are linked to digital technologies. Such understandings can result in very different implications for design, and un-design of digital technology, compared to that of prior work. First, through the combination of per-device energy monitoring across thirty-one participants, life-cycle analysis calculations, and semi-structured interviews, I bring to light a) the need for combining multiple methods, and b) broader scoped findings, contextualised by observations of practice, that go beyond more typical quantitative energy and emissions analysis. This contribution reveals the need for deeper understandings of the adoption and energy consumption of digital technologies. Through the combination of qualitative (e.g. semi-structured interviews) and quantitative data (e.g. per-device consumption data, per-application network traffic analysis) my second contribution demonstrates how modern mobile ICT (tablets, smart phones) enables loosening of the temporal and spatial constraints associated with non-mobile ICT. This loosening leads to the increased frequency of performances of social practices that were previously more static (performed in-place), leading to increased demand on Internet and cloud services. Third, to provide a deeper understanding of the roles of digital technology in social practices, I explore the meanings and competencies that surround digital technologies. Using interviews structured around photo elicitation, I explore the integration of digital technologies in ten participants’ lives. This contribution reveals how the connections between digital technologies, convenience, meaning, and competency lead to growth in individual and sets of devices, practices, users, and across different spaces. Thus, grounded in findings from three mixed-methods studies, this thesis interrogates how digital technology enables variation in social practices, which in turn leads to variation in energy impacts. To better understand the impacts of digital technology we should consider, more broadly, how these technologies feature throughout everyday life. Through better understanding the connections between everyday life, digital technology, and energy impacts we can better contextualise growth, and better design for more sustainable trajectories.

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Thesis (PhD)
?? sustainabilitymixed methodology domestic energy consumptionsocial practice approachenvironmental impactenergy consumptiondigital technologiesictdata demandeveryday lifequalitative methodologyquantitative analysis ??
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08 Feb 2016 09:44
Last Modified:
10 Jan 2024 00:05