Dodging Dark Data – Dave shares a dark secret!

Posted on: 20 Nov 2023


It turns out that I have a terrible habit. I caught an acquaintance peering at my phone the other day. They looked perplexed. In fact, I would go as far as to say they looked dumbfounded. What on earth are you looking at? I asked. “How many unopened emails have you got?” I glanced down at my phone. Gulp! Just under 40,000, most of which are spam.

The look of disgust said it all.

It turns out that humans are divided into two tribes: Those that manage their inboxes and those that don’t. Those who do cannot comprehend why those who don’t cannot keep up with such a basic thing.

For those who keep their inboxes to zero unopened emails, the rest of us are anathema; a mailbox full of unopened mail is the modern-day equivalent of running your fingernails down a chalkboard.

I didn’t dare tell the acquaintance one of the reasons (amongst many others) that I left my last job was because I hit six figures in unopened mail. Hitting that number puts your inbox beyond redemption.

As I say, it is a bad habit. Actually, it turns out it is a terrible habit.

Soon after this exchange, I was talking with a Data Centre company.
I have become fascinated by Data Centres and their role in our ever-increasing digital lives; they are the factories of the 21st century, consuming vast amounts of energy and water and generating lots and lots of excess heat whilst providing the services our digital lives demand.

In the course of the conversation, we ended up talking about cloud storage and the vast amounts of data that we have all saved.

Someone on the call mentioned a friend who had just returned from holiday. This friend had decided to keep only the 20 best holiday photos and delete the rest, reasoning that most photos lay dormant on the Cloud, never to be looked at again, each with a digital footprint, equating to energy and water.

Think about the last time you went on holiday. How many did you take? And how many did you delete?

It turns out that I have 73,592 photos and videos in the iCloud. Each of these is stored in at least two places. And each is consuming energy and water every day.

And the worst thing. I don’t even look at most. And as for that unopened mail. It is just sitting there doing nothing other than creating C02.

It turns out unused or unlooked-at data has a name: Dark Data.

According to one commentator, up to 52% of all information an organisation produces and stores is Dark Data, which is rapidly increasing.

As well as its environmental impact, there are also security implications of this dark data. Forgotten emails or data may contain sensitive information that would not be good if it fell into the hands of the wrong people.

So, a digital spring clean is in order. I love the simplicity of being ruthless with photographs and only keeping a select few.

It’s time to delete all those unread emails and archive those in my inbox.

Someone has helped me set up a spam filter, looking for the word “unsubscribe”. These emails are happily heading to a folder, which I am clearing every day. In his brilliant book “How Bad Are Bananas”, Mike Berners-Lee tells us that a spam email’s carbon footprint is 0.3g of CO2. And that’s just sending it.

Rapidly deleting means no footprint for storage, making a small contribution to lowering emissions.

By Dave Wallace, fintech entrepreneur, podcast host, and client of Cavendish Ware

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