‘Electric Shock!: Technological Complexity and the Modern Lifestyle’ – Long Walks & A/P, Part 7

‘Electric Shock!: Technological Complexity and the Modern Lifestyle’ – Long Walks & A/P, Part 7

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[Music] this is fine [Music] [Applause] [Music] you really understand how the technological world works i mean you have all these gadgets which you pour your life into to the point where they control you as much as you operate them and you really know how resilient they are and i don't mean hacker or spyware secure i mean the next time you need that device will it work in this video i'm going to expose two popular myths and why they are not truly valid for the average person in the world today what inspired this video was a recent comment in response to a blog post to paraphrase i'm not going to read that because other articles on that site are anti-technology their point was that some of my work questions resource availability or the net effect of green technologies when embodied carbon or energy are considered then nothing i say can be considered valid because it questions technological progress what i say in response is that i am not anti-technology but pro-science good science requires that we are always critical of technology because often irrational political economic objectives define technology rather than just rational thinking the first of these global myths whatever the product or development under discussion is that the modern lifestyle is sold on the basis that technology makes life better it's a proposition treated as a rule when in fact it's a function a certain level of technology definitely improves human lifestyle but beyond a certain point technological dependence creates a trap where growing complexity creates a high risk to our well-being should those systems suddenly fail the best technologies are invisible people do not perceive the system owning the miraculous ease freedom or service that the technology grants the whole point about modern technology from cheap fast fashion clothes to electronic payments to food delivery is that you do not question the sheer scale of the systems and economic relationships they rely upon you simply agree with the proposition that it's good and carry on using it i mean if you question that principle then your whole modern lifestyle would end wouldn't it that's why you need to keep watching this video because i have a heavy reality to lay upon you the more reliant we are upon technology for our daily life and the more seamless and invisible those technological systems become the greater problem it poses for your well-being should that system suddenly unravel it needn't be a classic disaster movie event which causes this machines break companies fail countries fall out but more importantly as the world economy operates at more extreme levels of physical and economic activity so the whole system becomes more brittle and less resilient to sharks technology must be tested in terms of how it is made how it performs and how performance varies in the probable yet uncommon conditions for example as it is topical right now the extreme heating of urban areas resulting from climate change those who follow my work will know that the experience of being outdoors has a great influence on my work and i really enjoy walking and if possible camping out in extreme weather storms floods and winter cold but there is one type of weather i do not mess with extreme heat as i write this britain has just smashed historic temperature records and has started to catch fire what is missing from the media debate though is the role that technological dependency driven by the economic imperative of greater specialization productivity and control has accentuated the risks of the urban lifestyle under the situation of extreme heat today technology is not an evaluation of how to enhance our lives it is variously an exploitative business model a consumer fashion or a brand-led cult and combining all of these a religion of affluence and consumption what we're talking about here are so called black swan or low probability high impact events events that are likely and even more so in the conditions of a warming climate to trigger the disruption of our intertwined technological systems but which is so relatively infrequent that when they occur it pushes people and especially the technology that enables their lives outside of their everyday experience amplifying the impact of those failures there are many systemic flaws in modern society interlocking processes which because of the way they underpin systemic complexity create a correlating risk of catastrophic failure when those systems are disrupted from supply chains to critical minerals any one factor may create a global crisis such as the current cost of living crisis as a result of the war in ukraine it is possible to anticipate and plan to adapt to these crises practically though it is far better to develop a less technological simpler alternative that you can enact when such crises arise one based on developing your skills to manipulate the resources around you rather than creating yet another consumer market that extracts resources from your life such as a popular cult of prepping sorry to butt in with a quick advert but if you'd like to see more content like this then you really should consider liking this video subscribe to my youtube channel perhaps leaving a comment below and following me on social media in today's digital analytics popularity contest all that button pressing means something in this messed up world and if we're going to challenge that then we have to do our bit to whack the algorithms supporting the kind of content we want to see by clicking on it the other common global myth i explain here is far older than the one about technology it's a popular idea from industrialists to bright green environmentalists that cities offer the best life to their citizens for a globally affluent minority living the western middle class lifestyle it may be possible to argue that but only if you ignore the relative poverty or servitude that lifestyle enforces upon many others in reality from the archaeological evidence on the very first cities that emerged 5000 years ago to the gruesome conditions of the first industrial cities of england to the typical lifestyle of the poorest fifty percent of the global population living in relative poverty in mega cities today highly engineered urban areas are not the driver of incontestable human well-being that they are claimed to be alongside increasing technological complexity there is a retrograde trend developing out of sight in the space where all those invisible technological systems interact the reliance upon high availability grid power creates a systemic weakness as people do not know how to react to a protracted power loss in the most affluent industrial states power cuts are a rare event in poorer states they are a fact of life and in fact the emerging economic effects of accessible and reliable public services like power water temperature control waste disposal and communications are the basis for the high consuming lifestyle of the most affluent states take that reliability away and those emergent benefits of urban living almost immediately collapse the point is with the majority of humans now concentrated in urban areas we are engineering a situation where a catastrophic urban collapse could take place very quickly for any one of a number of seemingly unrelated trigger events again just think of the global crisis that has emerged as a result of the war in ukraine all the ships stuck in the sewers canal before that and it's possible to see how seemingly restricted events in one location can propagate across the world to see the complex interaction of electrical power with the average urban community i'm going to walk you through a diagram that illustrates how power pervades all facets of our modern lifestyle in britain the diagram starts with the house you live in but it could just as easily be your place of work the root cause of any power crisis will be an imbalance in the national power grid this can be caused by insufficient power from power stations to keep the grid balanced against demand which creates brown outs or power surges that can lead to blackouts or excessive cold heat flooding or storm damage affecting transmission lines or the power stations all of which is certain under current committed climate change scenarios the critical factor here is called black start this is the capacity of a power station to start itself up using its own backup generators the two types of plant which had this in britain coal and nuclear have largely been closed over the past three decades many gas-fired plants do not have black start capability and next to no renewable plants habit what this means is that after a general grid failure plants of black start will have to power on to start the other power generating capacity first only then can the grid start to supply regional power networks national grid estimate that after a grid failure there's a 50 50 chance 60 of capacity might be restored after a day but under extreme conditions where infrastructure has been damaged it will take longer regional grids bridge the national grid to consumers under extreme circumstances regional grids can institute load shedding whereby large energy consumers can agree to have cheaper electricity in return for being cut off in emergencies but as manufacturing and heavy industry has closed britain's shrinking power supply has less large-scale interruptable capacity to shed before rolling blackouts are used to ration what power remains apart from national grid issues regional networks are more susceptible to flooding and storm damage a significant problem is extreme heat large parts on the network are passively cooled lines and transformers heat up during the day when demand is high and cool overnight when demand falls when nighttime temperatures remain high equipment can't shed as much heat which progressively leads to a higher operating temperature over successive days increasing the chances of grid failure you may have solar panels on your home what few realize though is that they do not work in a power cut just like large renewable power generators home pv or wind installations require an external power supply to synchronize to the grid frequency unless you have your own independent battery backup system and inverter domestic renewable power sources do not supply power during a power cut the latest model of highly efficient houses are airtight this reduces air leaks significantly reducing heat loss as a result they must have powered forced air exchange systems to extract and refresh the indoor air without a grid supply these heating or cooling systems do not work then because the building is so well sealed indoor air quality declines rapidly creating health stress as carbon dioxide levels rise if a heating or cooking stove is used indoors air quality will decline much faster for 30 years the uk water supply system has centralized around large plants designed to meet higher quality standards as a result we now pump large quantities of water long distances to supply urban areas using power from the regional grid in the early years of water supply when areas were supplied with water for a few hours at a time every building had a cold water tank this would fill and continue providing water during the hours when the supply was cut off since the 1970s britain has ripped out many of its cold water tanks this means should the supply fail people run out of water immediately unless they have their own stored water they will have nothing to drink this creates a clear danger during periods for extreme heat like water supply sewage treatment systems have concentrated on larger plants with many small local treatment works having been closed over the last three decades large volumes of sewage are now pumped especially in areas with high levels of new house building where new developments cannot always drain by gravity in a prolonged power failure the lack of water supply will limit sewage generation but with the pumps down what volumes are produced will back up and in many cases will overflow untreated into local watercourses as of course creates a conflict of people also trying to extract water from those water courses during an emergency there has been a major shift in food consumption over the last three decades towards frozen or chilled ready meals most people's food supply is now kept in the fridge which without power will warm up or defrost within 12 to 24 hours this diagram doesn't include the gas network but that too is dependent upon power for pumping and good control more importantly most modern gas cookers as well as solid fuel or oil fired boilers will not work without an external power supply in general then there will be no heat sources for heating or cooking in a situation where without refrigeration people keep most of their food in a readily perishable condition and without heat to cook it thoroughly that food has a higher probability of causing food poisoning when the local loop of the phone network operated with copper wires power was supplied from the exchange and most telephone exchanges had priority power supplies and even backup power generation the switch to fibre optic cables and bt's plan to eliminate all copper cables in the next few years creates a problem in emergencies landline phones now require their own power supply to function as a result in a power cut communication with the emergency services will become difficult smart devices must be charged their batteries are not designed to be replaced without mains power they will soon die and with them many of the related services most people take for granted in addition without power home hubs and wi-fi networks will not work isolating the device from the network without that link especially as many people keep information on cloud services rather than stored on the device or an external backup information that people may urgently need could be unavailable more simply as many now keep important phone numbers stored in their device and so do not routinely remember phone numbers without the data on the device they may find it difficult to contact people many people do not have a landline and they are totally reliant on mobile networks these networks are fragile many mobile towers have no or a very limited power backup on site more importantly they routinely produce a lot of heat so during extreme heat events they may shut down again with the demise of copper wire landlines many outland communities are vulnerable to disconnection in remote areas especially where the plan is to roll out extensive wireless networks the complex problem of maintaining communications in extreme weather has stalled bt's efforts to eliminate the wire trunk network the media has gone digital problem is most of those digital devices consume more power and are in many cases combined with other gadgets like smart devices certainly compared to the transistor radios 50 years ago which might work for many hours on a standard replaceable cell battery rechargeable gadgets with built-in batteries and nowhere near as resilient recently the bbc announced the end of the longwave service fm radio services are also slated for closure in the near future too meaning all those old transistor radios will be obsolete what this means is that in future emergencies people may experience information blackouts where the failure of communication networks and the lack of resilient devices to receive radio transmissions limit their ability to access information about the emergency not only as to what is the situation locally but more generally advice on how to deal with the emergency for those who have never experienced such conditions technology is making advanced scientists less safe power supply failure is but one of a number of similar flaws that pervade modern society the engineering frailties in britain's urban life support system are well known various experts have been talking about these problems for many years in order to understand and consciously decide how to live in a sustainable way you must first be able to see these invisible technological systems and how they affect your life only then can you decide how to live or what the priorities are for your own lifestyle the person whose comment inspired this video simply didn't want to engage in that pursuit the moment they opened that pandora's box it attacked the very identity this lifestyle had forged for them the problem was their maintenance of a willing ignorance in order to maintain their blissful existence in the consumer technological utopia but as with all utopias it is the limitations of these technologies which render that lifestyle practically unattainable is using science engineering and statistics to model the risk of failure anti-technology no it's rational to evaluate the risks of the gadgets in our lives if people are afraid of that then i suggest it is the result of their own failure to accept their dependency upon those fragile systems the solution to this is simpler technology developing practical skills not buying gadgets this is why i enjoy foraging camping and cooking food outdoors these are the skills which can sustain us when technology fails if i spend time outdoors practicing and extending my primitive skills it is not because i reject technology it is precisely because i understand the complex nature of modern technology and its limitations and i do not develop these skills to reject society but instead to create a more simple stable fallback option to help others when the high technology model eventually fails the response to climate change is all too often accompanied by a call for more or improved technology i disagree i believe what we need is less complex technologies primitive skills are valuable not only because they make us resilient but because they can be easily and freely shared person to person in response to any emergency in the final analysis though and especially in terms of how we react to the wider ecological crisis what we have to do is question the entire human project of urbanism not simply how cities are designed and operated but more fundamentally whether we need to significantly decrease the density of human settlement alongside a more general simplification of how we meet our needs in order to create some semblance of a sustainable enjoyable future for everyone [Music] so [Music] so [Music] you

2022-07-28 09:51

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