An interdisciplinary team of computer scientists, information scientists, and planners explores the invisible environmental impacts of digital technologies in What Pushes Back from Considering Materiality in IT? 

There are significant negative impacts from extracting, processing, maintaining, and ultimately disposing of the materials used to support information technology, as well as of producing the energy it uses, yet these negative impacts receive substantially less attention than discussion of the benefits or technical aspects of IT. This essay presents some ideas on the forces that either de-emphasize or even actively push against considering these impacts. They are grouped into three overarching categories: metaphor and utopian visions, economics, and disciplinary norms and practices of computer science. The essay concludes with some ideas for what might be done to counter these forces and increase the visibility of these impacts when appropriate, suggestions for further investigations, and a framing of these issues as a particular aspect of larger systemic and interlocking environmental, economic, and political problems.

Read the full essay here. This essay was presented at ACM LIMITS 2018.


Alan Borning, Batya Friedman, and Deric Gruen. 2018. What Pushes Back from Considering Materiality in IT?. In Proceedings of Fourth Workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS 2018). ACM, New York, NY, USA, Article 4, 6 pages. https://doi.org/10.475/123 [pdf]