Hidden Figures … 56 years later

One of the things that causes new technology to be frightening or intimidating to some is our collective lack of understanding. The average person would not be able to understand the complex workings of what occurs in or behind their phone or laptop; that level of understanding is reserved for a select few. In this brilliant marketing strategy mentioned in “‘Where the Internet Lives’ Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure,” simple pictures and virtual tours allow the common person to understand exactly what is going on in the cloud and at various data centers. The image below shows a very simplistic version of what iCloud is while appearing to provide all the information you need. Except, this actually allows the companies to hide more than they reveal.

This image seemingly shows everything you need to know about the iCloud- what goes into it and what it takes from. However, as this article showed, there’s more than meets the eye.

One tool they use is disguising infrastructure as part of the natural environment (76). Environment plays a surprising and very hidden role in the world of data centers and information sharing. The cloud itself, requires enough energy that if it were a country, it would have the fifth largest energy demand (82). Somehow, as someone who regularly updates to the cloud, I completely failed to acknowledge that there would be significant energy need. The name cloud compares itself to an environmental feature and thus, detracts from the technical aspect and makes you think of only a simple object that is always present.

While data centers require significant amounts of energy, there is a push to make them more environmentally friendly. Many use sustainable energy to some capacity and Facebook has a data plant in Sweden that uses 100% sustainable energy (84). Despite the large demand for energy at data centers, only 6-12% is used and the rest is a surplus in case of a surge (83). Data centers attempt to present themselves as a straightforward, understandable system. However, behind data centers is a world of little clarity, lots of unknown environmental effects, and sometimes even a potential threat.