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Digital sobriety for everyday use

The objective of digital sobriety is to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology. It is a simple idea, but still not widely used. Most often, digital sobriety is associated with everyday habits. These small eco-gestures are crucial, but we still must not forget the collective commitment which has always more importance (activism, regulation, boycott, etc.).

Digital technology emits 4% of greenhouse gases, it is not the most emitting activity, but the one that has experienced the strongest growth in recent times. The production of electronic devices requires more and more resources (plastics, rare-earth element, huge amounts of water, etc.)1. These materials are the primary source of digital pollution. Their short lifespan and obsolescence mean that we are consuming more and more devices.2.

As a user, the main goal is to make electronic devices last as long as possible.

Regulation is the first way to reduce the number of devices and increase their lifespan. Campaigning for ethical technology remains the priority. Regulations are being proposed to increase warranties, facilitate repairs and educate. Unfortunately, it is still marginal.

Individual actions will have less impact in this matter. However, they will be easier to put in place and provide different benefits (privacy, security, better understanding of digital). Furthermore, they can serve as an example and help advocate for digital sobriety.

This list is an introduction to good practices. This article is not about web design. We are planning other, more technical content to cover these topics. This guide will evolve over time to incorporate new practices.

Digital sobriety

An important first step is to understand common mistakes in the use of electronic devices. The use of digital technology has become widespread, even harmful3. We cannot forget all the infrastructure behind digital services: data centers, servers, antennas, land and submarine cables. Today, almost every new device is connected to the network, from laptops and smartphones to cars and watches. This entails the need to develop the infrastructure, make it more complex, increase the number of cables and, thus, make it more and more invasive to the natural environment. Understanding the resources needed to make digital technology work means integrating the environmental impact of the production of our devices. This step allows you to sort out useful and superfluous services.

Several habits allow for more numerical sobriety::

  • Limit the number of applications (mainly on smatphones). Use mobile versions instead of apps - most websites now have enhanced mobile versions that fully replace apps.
  • Limit the number of applications available from the home screen
  • Disable GPS / location / Bluetooth / Internet / data migration when not needed
  • Disable the notifications. They consume a large amount of energy and force the device to work continuously, which means it wears out faster.
  • A wired connection uses less power than a Wi-Fi connection. 3G / 4G consumes the most
  • Try to turn off the Internet in your home at night, especially the rooter.
  • Turn off the screens at night as well, they disturb a healthy, deep sleep 3
  • If possible, choose ethical devices that offer more free software (Fairphone, / e /, Why !, used devices, etc.).

Good practices

We use electronic devices too often today, we are even dependent on them, and this has a very bad effect on our health. We cannot always avoid the use of digital tools, but here are techniques and tools to limit the impact of digital on a daily basis.

This list is organized from simple solutions to more complicated ones. Some solutions are more akin to improving privacy or using free software. This is not always the case, but sobriety, privacy and free software often go in the same direction.

We have also created a little graphic code, so feel free to follow it to visualize the impact of the solutions:

  • environmental impact & energy consumption 🌿
  • security πŸ”’
  • privacy πŸ”Ž

Browser 🌿🌿 - πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

Firefox is a browser that offers more possibilities to limit tracking and protect privacy. You can download it from the official website. You can change the settings and extensions to improve privacy and reduce page weight.

These settings and extensions may interfere with browsing on certain websites. It is not necessary to follow all these recommendations. Select the options that suit your needs.

In the settings you can:

  • Activate tracking protection
    • Menu > Options > Privacy and security > Content blocking
    • Select the strict parameter
  • Don't track me
    • Menu > Options > Privacy and security > Content blocking
    • Select the Do not track me setting
  • Disable telemetry
    • Menu > Options > Privacy and security > Firefox data collection and use
    • Uncheck the boxes that prevent data sharing

Extensions

On mobile, Firefox focus is a good alternative.

=> Firefox and its extensions limit data collection and trackers. This makes it possible to reduce the weight of the pages and avoid the impact of data processing.

Other habits can help reduce the energy impact:

  • use bookmarks to save the most visited websites,
  • limit the number of tabs open in your browser,
  • use more ethical services with less tracking.

Search engine 🌿 - πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

DuckDuckgo has become a popular search engine promoting the importance of privacy.

Email 🌿 - πŸ”’πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

ProtonMail is an encrypted webmail which has been developed at CERN in Switzerland. Funding is done only with paid offers.

Tutanota is very close to ProtonMail, it offers an accessible and ergonomic interface that allows you to encrypt your emails. Hosted in Germany, security is also the priority of this company which defends privacy. Funding is done only with paid offers.

Both services are accessible through a browser or an application.

Other habits can help reduce the energy impact of emails:

  • limiting the number of emails sent remains the simplest solution,
  • avoid heavy attachments, compress them or send them with a sharing service like [Swiss Transfer] (https://www.swisstransfer.com/),
  • use a text format for your emails instead of an email format.
  • block notifications,
  • avoid subscribing to too many newsletters,
  • block spam,
  • delete unnecessary emails,
  • RSS feeds are a good solution to limit the number of newsletters.

Video 🌿🌿🌿 - πŸ”Ž

Video consumes more bandwidth than other services, but there are several techniques to limit the impact:

  • avoid using video to listen to music,
  • limit the resolution,
  • use alternatives for platforms like YouTube (with an extension Privacy Redirect or Peertube),
  • limit streaming if you watch videos several times, it is better to do it locally (this also applies to audio files),
  • avoid watching videos on a 3G or 4G connection, a Wi-Fi connection is preferable,
  • compress the videos before posting.

Messaging apps πŸ”’πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

Avoid services like Messenger and WhatsApp which belong to Facebook. Data collection is more important on these platforms. Instead, use Signal or Telegram.

Office suite 🌿

LibreOffice can replace the Microsoft Office suite. LibreOffice website.

=> free software is more likely to last over time and to be compatible with old computers

Map πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative mapping tool. It is a world map created by an international community with a free license.

Password πŸ”’πŸ”’πŸ”’ - πŸ”Ž

It is better to have a password consisting of several words with upper case, lower case and special characters. A minimum of 20 characters is a good choice. It is preferable to use a passphrase. A password manager makes it easier to organize these passwords.

Password manager:

For security, the use of double authentication is an interesting addition. andOTP is a good choice for this security.

Social networks 🌿 - πŸ”’πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

The dominant social networks seek to capture our attention constantly and push us to use their services for as long as possible. They are making money with our attention. Conversely, digital sobriety seeks to reduce the time spent on social networks.

  • Reduce and limit the use of social networks
  • Turn off notifications
  • Use alternatives networks fediverse networks

The following solutions require more technical knowledge.

Free software 🌿🌿🌿 - πŸ”’πŸ”’ - πŸ”ŽπŸ”Ž

Linux is a free operating system that offers more control than proprietary solutions. The advantage, besides being selfless, is the ability to choose your Linux version according to the power of your computer. It is possible to use the Linux version on old computers.

For Android phones, there is also alternative operating systems: LineageOS or /e/

Make electronic devices durable🌿🌿🌿🌿

Making electronic devices last is the most important step at the individual level. In addition to reducing uses, it is also possible to repair, rent, buy ethically or second-hand.

Act 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿

Being an activist remains the most important action. Regulation will always have more impact than individual acts.
Support associations and companies that try to reduce the impact of digital technology and respect Internet users.

This article will be updated regularly to include new tips.

Sources:


  1. Guillaume Pitron, La guerre des metaux rares, Γ©diteur : Les Liens Qui LibΓ¨rent 

  2. The Shift Project, Lean ICT: Towards digital sobriety”: Our new report on the environmental impact of ICT 

  3. Michel Desmurget, La Fabrique du crΓ©tin digital, Γ©dition : Seuil