Skeletons in Our E-closets: The Impact of Wasteful Digital Storage

Amanda Sopkin

As we grow to expect more accessibility in our daily lives—from ordering groceries to hailing a taxi—technology has proven to be extremely efficient at eliminating physical limitations to our common problems. Notifications replace daily newspaper deliveries, emails replace receipts, and virtual clouds replace boxes of photographs. At first glance, this seems like a natural way to build a more sustainable world. However, rather than leveraging our power to create minimal solutions for hard problems, we gorge ourselves on this seemingly limitless space. We create 300 hours of YouTube content, 510,000 Facebook comments, and 350,000 tweets every minute. While these can seem harmless, this endless outpouring of content has an impact as well. For example, it is estimated by Twitter developers that a single tweet generates a tiny .02 grams of carbon dioxide. That tiny puff gets blown into 7,000 grams in a single minute which becomes 420,000 grams in an hour and 10,080,000 grams in a day (11 U.S. tons).

The buildup of all this material has an impact beyond the carbon that is produced by the servers that stores it. It has an impact on us: we lose track of what matters and what we should save.

Reducing our impact won’t happen overnight. It is a conscious decision that must take place every day. Minimizing one’s impact is a way of life. This talk will discuss practical ways to turn sustainability into day-to-day decisions and how the patterns of a single person can make a difference. It will cover technologies that make digital cleanup easy, and simple ways to organize overwhelming content, including Google Drive and email).


Amanda Sopkin is a software engineer on the rentals team at Zillow with a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. She became passionate about sustainability through her work with Engineers Without Borders in at the University of Illinois. As chapter president, Amanda worked with six different project teams to engineer the most minimal efficient solutions to problems involving water systems, electrical grids, and sanitation pipelines. She enjoys discussing ways to do more with less.