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The worldwide Global Information Society Watch network looks at a different urgent issue each year and produces a critical report. In 2010 the adverse impacts of technology consumption and e-waste on the environment and the positive uses of technology to alleviate climate change were reported on from more than 50 countries.

As information and communications technologies (ICTs) have become more widespread they have, certainly in more developed nations, become “invisible”; we don’t see them because we just accept they are there – often we only understand their significance to our lives when they break down.

When only a few people had these gadgets they were novel, but as they became more common, and were eventually assimilated to become part of our modern culture, they became transparent; they’re just another part of our everyday life. The implicit association of these technologies with a “modern” lifestyle has in turn become a driver for their adoption in less developed states.

To understand the sustainability of ICTs we must look at the life cycle of the devices themselves, from the sources of raw materials, through production, use, and finally disposal.

The ever greater use of ICTs is taking place within a finite environmental system, and that system, like the human system in general, has limits. There are serious questions about how long we will be able to sustainably use today’s high-speed digital technologies before the “ecological limits” on production make them either too rare, or too costly, to justify their use as just another “invisible” element of our mass consumption culture.

To find out more download the report here or visit the Global Information Society Watch network for this and other reports including chapters in other languages.