Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The virtual reality of Web 2.0

I've written before about Web 2.0 - the convergence of social networking that puts the MeMe generation in a homogeneous sandbox with all their playmates. Web 2.0 sites like Digg and FaceBook draw crowds who post their favorite things online - lists of web sites, books, photos, music, and surround themselves with others who share their interest.

Many of these social networking site owners don't do much except pay the electric bill, yet they make a zillion dollars on advertising.

What are we wasting in the earth's resources by dreaming up ways to waste time through these social networking venues? Are you ready for the answer? ....

One site,, allows you to create an "avatar," a fake you, in a land of make-believe where you can create essentially a cartoon version of yourself, your town, clothing, etc. Or a fantasy life for yourself as a billionaire, movie star, who knows what else...

Second Life describes itself as "a 3D online digital world imagined, created & owned by its residents." It lets people live in a fantasy world, acting out behaviors they can't get away with in real life, and buying and selling goods with an imaginary currency called "Linden dollars."

Once the site became popular, large companies even created avatars for their brands and create an entire imaginary society online.

Fascinating in itself, sociologists are surely working on an analysis of "people with too much time." But more interesting at the moment, author Nick Carr, author of Does IT Matter? has calculated that an avatar on Second Life essentially uses as much electricity as a real live resident of Brazil.

The avatar world on Second Life has an average of 12,500 people online at any time. Carr calculates the computers of the real people who create these imaginary lives would use 12,500 computers, and the servers that host the site might require 4,000 computers. Based on typical watts of electricity consumed by computers, a day on Second Life therefore consumes about 60,000 kilowatt-hours.

So check the world electricity usage stats and that's a close measure to the daily electricity used by an average person in Brazil.

Now should we measure the lost productivity in the world economy by people creating and dressing these fake personas?

An executive at Sun MicroSystem's Dave Douglas took this moral dilemma a step further and calculated the CO2 emissions (greenhouse gasses) from the production of all this electricity. Douglas writes the avatar uses "1,752 kWH/year per avatar -- about 1.17 tons of CO2. That's the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000)."

You can read more at Nick Carr's blog:

or post a comment here to share your thoughts.