The unsustainable use of online video

Porn harms the environment

Porn harms the environment. World-wide watching pornography accounts for 0.2% of all green house gas emissions. That may not sound like much, but this is equal to 80 million tons of carbon dioxide, or as much as emitted by all the households in France.

In July 2019 a team lead by Maxime Efoui-Hess at The Shift Project in Paris published the first major work looking at the energy consumption of online video. They made a detailed case study of the electricity consumed in delivering pornographic videos to consumers. The Reward Foundation helped to bring this story to the world in July 2019.

So, what did they find?

Online pornographic videos represent 27% of the online videos, 16% of the total flow of data and 5% of total Greenhouse gas emissions due to digital technology.

Porn harms the environment The Shift Project

Watching pornography is a significant, measurable contributor to climate change. So now we can think more carefully about the question…. “Is watching porn worth it?”

This video summarises The Shift Project’s answer…This video, which itself emits greenhouse gases (an average of a little less than 10 grams of CO2 per viewing), is intended for the general public. It aims at making the environmental impact of digital technology visible, whereas it is invisible on a daily basis. The video also highlights the consequences of digital use on climate change and resource depletion.

Practical case: pornography

First, let’s look at The Shift project’s view of the big picture.

Online video viewing represents 60% of the world’s data traffic. During 2018 it generated more than 300 Mt of CO2. For example, that is a carbon footprint comparable to the annual emissions of Spain.

pornography 27%
Distribution of online data flows between different uses in 2018 in the world
(Source The Shift Project 2019)

The issue of the societal impact of pornography is a crucial manifestation of the tension that crystallizes the debate on the pertinence of a use at the scale of a society. A debate that has remained topical for the different stakeholders for several decades, pornography has been the subject of numerous sociological studies aimed at understanding its effects. The boom of new platforms broadcasting pornographic content (Gauthier, 2018), have revolutionized the consumption of pornography with access by any smartphone, including by children and adolescents, simple and free.

Our approach was to bring together the views of experts on the societal effects identified of online pornographic video contents. Obviously, the objective is not to pretend to sum up in a few paragraphs the complexity of a debate lasting several years. Rather it entails establishing the questions raised by the evaluation of the pertinence of different uses to see if porn harms the environment.

The observations highlighted here do not pertain to providing proof of whether a nefarious effect is present or not. However, they permit reflection on the means of political decision-making that takes into account the risks linked to these prejudicial effects.

Societal implications of the broadcasting and reception of online pornographic video content

One of the problems mentioned regarding the effects of consuming pornography at the societal level is the phenomenon of shifting norms. A trend has been observed towards increased violence in the content viewed. This leads to harmful effects on the individual’s sexuality and their perceptions of physical relationships, including in the case of occasional consumption (Solano, 2018; Muracciole, 2019). This phenomenon is catalyzed by the availability of all types of pornographic content – including the most violent – facilitated by the advent of dedicated online video platforms (Gauthier, 2018).

The Shift Project logo

The impact that the Tube type broadcasting method of online pornographic video content can have constitutes an issue on the scale of our society. The content is diffused on the basis of a categorization “labelled” for the consumer (the role of keywords), based on the model used to categorize cultural products for the general public. However, this categorization is possible only through the standardization of the content itself and thus, because of the nature of the pornographic product, via the standardization of the characters and situations presented, since each category must be built according to easily identifiable specificities. Regarding the standardization of representations of people and human relationships, experts on the subject point out that it raises the question of the role played by pornographic content in imprinting societal caricatures and manifestations of inequality on representations (Muracciole, 2019).

Video delivery means all porn harms the environment

To appreciate the societal impact of pornographic video use, it is necessary to include all the types of content in our reflection, notably those that claim to be committed and alternative (pornography claiming to be feminist, promoting diversity, content not showing any representation prejudicial to the couple, etc.). The question of the precise evaluation of the beneficial effects of these alternative approaches falls outside the scope of this report when determining if porn harms the environment.

Rather, we emphasize the need to take into account the effect of broadcasting vectors on the dynamics driving changes in uses: the volumes of contents made available by online video platforms are big enough to influence trends in the evolution of uses on large scale. It is therefore necessary to understand the role played by the architecture of platforms and to determine the point at which the dominant model – standardized industrial content – gives room for alternative contents to emerge (Vaton, 2018).

Societal implications of the production of online pornographic video content

As with all video uses, the content production phase is linked to those of broadcasting and reception. For example, the observations made on the shifting of the norm regarding the violence of the contents viewed necessarily impact the production of contents. The increase in the violence of the practices watched by the consumer leads to increased violence in practices during the shooting of the videos and films. The question of the violence tolerated in these production processes subject to a legal framework is therefore raised by the participants in the debate (Muracciole, 2019).

The new broadcasting platforms permit the production and sharing of content by private individuals in private premises. This new possibility participates to a certain extent in the diversification of representations by going outside the standardized framework of the pornography industry. It is nonetheless essential to question the possibility of a genuine re-appropriation by private individuals of the contents and representations within a market largely dominated by the industrial groups in place.

The construction of pornographic uses

Catherine Solano, a sexologist, has observed “for several years, that for a large proportion of men, masturbation is inseparable from pornography” (Solano, 2018). The use of pornography and thus the visualization of online pornographic videos are therefore now associated with a utilization governed by highly automatic cognitive mechanisms, which allows the efficient monetization of the products proposed. Today, the economic development of viewing online pornographic videos is therefore built on a cognitive amalgam resulting from the marketing practices of the sector: the association of using pornography with the physical act of sex (Roussilhe, 2019).

Trigger effect

Seeing a naked body activates an initial automatic reaction in the brain which arouses interest linked to the evolutive reflex of the possibility of procreation (Solano, 2018). Since we know that our cognitive mechanisms host a bias, called “trigger effect”, that induces inertia in our thought process30 (Marcinkowski, 2019), we can understand that the sexualization of content for the general public introduces pornographic uses within a wider mechanism of influence: exposed to sexualized contents for the general public (advertising, video clips, etc.), individuals find themselves in a state of recurrent solicitation of the areas of their brain linked to physical desire. This will therefore catalyze the use made by the individual within the same type of solicitation, including pornographic uses (Roussilhe, 2019) that are performed preferentially via online broadcasting platforms, the subject of this analysis.

So, we see, once again, that these uses are built according to a collective component that can’t be ignored: the architecture of the system that transmits information on a large scale fully participates in the definition of the uses of online pornographic videos. Now we have a way to show that porn harms the environment.

References

Gauthier, U. G. (2018). L’ère du porno. Les Hors-Série de L’OBS. n°100. Nov. 2018.

Marcinkowski, J. (2019, 20 mars). Caractérisation, construction et réglementation possible des usages vidéo. (M. Efoui-Hess, Intervieweur)

Muracciole, M. (2019, 22 mars). La pornographie dans les usages vidéo en ligne. (M. Efoui-Hess, Intervieweur)

Roussilhe, G. (2019). Caractérisation, construction et réglementation possible des usages vidéo. (M. Efoui-Hess, Intervieweur)

Solano, C. (2018, Nov.). Malades du porno. L’ère du porno. Les Hors-Série de L’OBS. n°100, pp. 90-93.

Vaton, M. (2018, Nov.). Entretien avec Ovidie. L’ère du porno. Les Hors-Série de L’OBS. n°100, pp. 76-79.

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