G.6 ROUNDTABLE Immaterial Material: The Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media in Online Teaching and Learning

Sat Oct 23 / 9:00 – 10:30 PDT
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  • Yani Kong, Simon Fraser University

Online media are not merely virtual. The electricity demanded by the production and use of data centers, networks, and devices mainly powered by fossil fuels, has a real material impact on our Earth. Streaming media is calculated to account for over 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and almost 4% of global energy usage. This rapidly rising figure is expanding the footprint of information and communication technology (ICT). The rise of CryptoArt, NFTs, and other blockchain-based activities also contribute to this unsustainable demand for electricity and resulting carbon emissions, to say nothing of the contributions of the average individual at home. As the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced an abrupt turn to remote teaching and learning, the reliance on streaming media for distance learning has entrenched students and instructors further in this massive environmental consumption. Our session examines the streaming dependency in fine and performing arts courses, modelled on our research team's one-year study on the carbon footprint of online teaching and learning. We critique the "outsourcing" to the future of streaming's environmental damage, explore sustainable models for course delivery, and share our research in developing small-file, sustainable media arts. Large file media are killing the planet. We explore the constraint of the small file as a creative environmental practice in teaching, learning, and creating in the arts.

Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU and a research scholar with SFU Sustainability Living Labs. She is the managing editor of the Comparative Media Arts Journal and a contributing writer, editor, and critic for publications such as Akimbo, Public Parking, Galleries West, and AintBad.

G.6.1 Rebound Effects in Streaming and Video Conferencing

Laura U. Marks, Simon Fraser University

This talk will explain the engineering science behind the carbon footprint of streaming video and videoconferencing. Information and communication technologies (ICT) help to save energy in some instances. However, both streaming video and videoconferencing are subject to rebound effects, whereby increased energy efficiency leads to greater consumption of a resource, and substitution effects, whereby other types of products are replaced by their digital equivalents. ICT as a whole uses almost 4% of global electricity — much more than the airline industry. This figure is rising alarmingly, propelled especially by online video. A number of ICT engineers calculate that streaming video is responsible for 1% to 1.3% of greenhouse gas emissions. I will explain how that electricity consumption is shared among networks, data centers, and consumer devices, and how, even though each of these is increasingly energy-efficient, that efficiency is outweighed by the increasing demand for high-speed data.

Laura U. Marks works on media art and philosophy with an intercultural focus. She is the Principal Investigator of the research group Tackling the Carbon Footprint Streaming Media and the founder of the Small File Media Festival. She is the author of Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image (MIT, 2015), Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT, 2010), The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Duke University Press, 2000), and Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minnesota University Press, 2002). With Azadeh Emadi, she is a founding member of the Substantial Motion Research Network of artists and scholars working on cross-cultural approaches to media technologies. She programs experimental media art for venues around the world. Marks is Grant Strate Professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

G.6.2 Small-File Media Aesthetics and Politics

Radek Przedpełski, Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Small-file media are ecologically sustainable new media artworks under 5 megabytes in size and under 5 minutes in duration, promoted during Small File Media Festival founded by media scholar Laura U. Marks and hosted by the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. The paper will examine small-file media both as an aesthetically pleasing "green" media format and an activist pedagogy aimed at drawing attention to the carbon footprint of streaming media, changing habits of media consumption and influencing policy. I am going to discuss the ways in which the festival and small-file media resonate with the framework of "computing within limits" proposed by ICT engineer Bonnie Nardi. The paper will be illustrated by examples of small-file media artworks, showcasing its diversity of methods, such as compression aesthetics, sound design, haptic entanglements or computational elegance.

Radek Przedpełski (rah-deck pshet-peoo-skee) (his/him) is a migrant artist and media scholar. Radek received his PhD as part of the innovative programme "Digital Arts and Humanities" from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he presently lectures on the MSc in Interactive Digital Media. In 2020–21, Radek was a postdoctoral research associate on the Tackling the Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media transdisciplinary project developed at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University (SFU) by media scholar Laura U. Marks and ICT engineer Stephen Makonin. Radek co-edited a volume on Deleuze, Guattari and the Art of Multiplicity published by Edinburgh University Press in October 2020. Radek co-organized at TCD international conferences on Deleuze, Guattari, and aesthetics (2016, 2018) and on art in the Anthropocene (2019). Radek is a curator, together with Laura U. Marks, of the annual Small File Media Festival hosted by SFU's School for the Creative Arts.

G.6.3 Video Entropy: Experiments with Small File Media Aesthetics

Hân Phạm, Simon Fraser University

In this presentation, filmmaker Han Pham will discuss the context, process, and creative strategies around her small-file experimental film Ngày Xửa Ngày Xưa/Once Upon a Time (2020, 5 min, 5MB). Through sourcing and recontextualizing found footages — many of which are small-file in nature, the film weaves collectively sourced footage of Saigon, Vietnam, into a personal reality, acting as a site of mediation upon pastness and reality, traditional Vietnamese storytelling and digital spaces, and the person within the collective. Thinking through Deleuze's notion of fabulation and Pisters's idea of metallurgist filmmaking, this presentation will walk through how the film's strategies of relocations and abstraction of found footages open up aesthetic and political potentials to reinvent collective history and provide a spectral haven within filmic space. Furthermore, this presentation will also touch on the small-file reality of the film, discussing practical strategies of small-file footage collections and format compressions, as well as the challenges and artistic potentials they come with. In compressing and exporting a film with unconventional technical parameters (bit depth, frame rates, dimensions, etc.), the film shows how such unconventional data processing does not pose as constraints, but rather provides alternative artistic potentials and ways of thinking. Through the pixelation that occurred during the process, the coherent, transparent image gives way for the low-fi, broke down, entropy-charged image, allowing the digital medium to enact upon its own and facilitate artistic potentials to negate time and space within the film.

Hân Phạm is an emerging artist and a documentary/experimental filmmaker from Saigon, Vietnam. Working with experimental moving images and soundscapes, her works think through the ephemerality of memory, language and history in relation to the constantly changing landscapes, rooting in the in-betweenness of distance as space for radical reflection and healing. Hân has exhibited at Vancouver International Film Festival, DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, and Vines Arts Festival, as well as presented her work in a year-long installation with grunt gallery and Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen in 2020–21. She holds a BFA in Film at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC.

G.6.4 Pushing Against the Substitution Effect: Best Practices for Carbon Neutral Streaming in Remote Teaching and Learning

Stefan Smulovitz, Simon Fraser University

Some may argue that online teaching will conserve energy, as teachers and students will not rely on transportation to get to the classroom. However, we argue that streaming media exemplifies the "substitution effect" of information and communication technology (ICT), where other types of products are replaced by their digital equivalents. In first-year survey courses across the continent, classes of up to 300 students or more stream their film content, lecture material, and videoconference for classroom discussion and repeat this in all of their classes, on top of the streaming they already do for leisure. The average internet usage of a North American individual who works and lives from home generates several hundred thousand grams of carbon per month. Driving this usage and its associating footprint is streaming video. We aim to make tangible the otherwise invisible impact of streaming, beginning with online teaching and learning. Our research team partnered with our university's sustainability office to examine the carbon footprint associated with the turn to remote teaching and learning. This talk shares data gathered from our collaborations with students, faculty and staff in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU and our partners in IT. Our aim is to address the specific technology needs of faculty and students in the arts and to share a best-practices guideline for videoconferencing and streaming in online teaching so to model solutions that minimize bandwidth.

Stefan Smulovitz is one of Canada's most coveted composers, as well as a highly accomplished violist, technologist, laptop artist, and live performer. Known for his creative use of technology and sound processing, Stefan specializes in improvised music, soundscape, and composition. He is the creator of the Eye of Newt ensemble, which has accrued over ninety live film score credits since its founding in the late 90s. Stefan has worked with a vastly eclectic assortment of collaborators, ranging from renowned contemporary dance and theatre artists to theoretical particle physicists. His compositions have been featured in a wide variety of film, music, and performance festivals, from New York City to Puerto Vallarta to Bejing. Stefan has developed many highly acclaimed music software programs, notably Kenaxis, the cutting-edge technology that transforms laptops into versatile musical instruments. He teaches sound at Simon Fraser University, where he once created a laptop orchestra with his students.