The carbon footprint of smartphone use and data centers is growing, harming the environment according to new study

The rise of digital technology has made smartphones indispensable.

All you have to do is check your smartphone, laptop or computer for the latest news or to get in touch with your friends and family. No wonder the use of smartphones has grown by leaps and bounds. A 2016 scientific study published in Telecommunications Policy revealed that smartphones have replaced landlines as the communication tool of choice.

The use of smartphones is also related to a country’s wealth. Richer ones reported higher smartphone ownership.

Technology however, is a double-edged sword. A study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production showed yet another reason why we should go easy on smartphone use. The researchers echo what other findings have warned us about: Smartphones damage the environment.

The research, led by Lotfi Belkhir, an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Associate Professor at the W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology, was based on studies involving carbon footprints of smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktops and communication networks since 2005.

Belkhir reported that if trends continue, the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) industry will be responsible for 14 percent of total global footprint by 2040, or “about half of the entire transportation sector worldwide.”

Belkhir explained: “For every text message, for every phone call, every video you upload or download, there’s a data centre making this happen. Telecommunications networks and data centres consume a lot of energy to serve you and most data centres continue to be powered by electricity generated by fossil fuels. It’s the energy consumption we don’t see.”

Furthermore, production of smartphones require high amounts of energy and precious metals that are mined at a high cost. Smartphones also have a short life which drives further production of new models and an extraordinary amount of waste.

“Anyone can acquire a smartphone, and telecommunications companies make it easy for people to acquire a new one every two years,” said Belkhir. “We found that by 2020 the energy consumption of a smartphone is going to be more than that of PCs and laptops.”

Other harmful impacts of excessive smartphone use

Smartphones do more than harm the environment.

A 2017 study at the University of California San Diego revealed that students who left their smartphones in the lobby performed a lot better in IQ tests than those who brought the device in the classroom. Those who placed their smartphones on their desks scored the lowest in the said tests.

Professor Shalii Misra of Virginia Tech led a 2014 study which showed that couples who spoke with smartphones in sight had lower empathy levels. The conversations were less meaningful.

However, emotional health not only takes the beating. So, too, does physical health.

Sleep-deprived teens due to smartphone use has increased by 57 percent in 2015 compared to 1991, when ownership was not as widespread as it was 24 years ago. The LED lights from our devices reduce the levels of melatonin and makes it hard for us to doze off. Smartphones have also been linked to neck and back problems, obesity and road accidents.

Smartphones do make life more convenient. But they also have their downside.

The key is staying connected without overdoing it. You still need to talk to the person next to you, and vice-versa. You still need to establish long-term friendships and relationships based on face-to-face communication, not text messages you can edit at will.

Smartphones are making us realize there’s still no substitute for good old conversation.

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