Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two eye-opening statistics

click photo to enlarge
Newspapers and the internet throw statistics at us all the time. A good number or a summary encapsulated in a figure is a powerful tool for grabbing your audience. But you have to be careful. Sometimes the statistics are a product of a journalist's innumeracy, are often simplified, extrapolated or taken out context from more complex data, rendering them inaccurate at best or fictitious at worse. So, it is with caution and an element of scepticism that I present two statistics that I came across recently. The first, on initial inspection, seems to have nothing to do with photography - but it does. The second is directly photography related.

In a recent Guardian newspaper article about data storage I read the following:
"DatacentreDynamics' research also reveals that British datacentres consume 6.4 gigawatts of power annually – enough to power 6m homes – and that is set to increase by 6.7% over the next year."
That is an awful lot of electricity, even allowing for the fact that a significant proportion of the data stored here is for overseas users. It also clearly underlines that cloud computing and electronic data are not quite the no-cost or even low-cost option, that we sometimes think. I used to be sure that photographs viewed on screens and stored on servers, and that blogs such as this one that exist away from the computer on which they are written, used less physical resources than prints and paper. But do they? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The second statistic that brought me up short was reported on the website, "Visual News", and is a graphic that purports to be "A Snapshot of the Photography Industry". It documents the rise of the phone camera, the consequent decline of the point and shoot camera, the dominance of sites such as Facebook and much else. It also includes the following:
"Today we snap as many photos every two minutes as humanity as a whole did in the 1800s."
In other words it takes us 120 seconds to accumulate the number of photographs that were amassed in the 100 years between 1800 and 1900. Which prompted me to think that the first statistic about energy use for data storage could well be accurate! It also made me consider whether ever higher pixel counts on cameras should be opposed on environmental grounds, something that hadn't occurred to me before. All of which has little to do with today's photograph, taken on an overcast day, of boats on the river at Ely, Cambridgeshire. Except these two further thoughts. Firstly, this shot represents yet another addition to the total data stored across the world. And secondly, I wonder how much electricity this one image uses in a year and at what cost?

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On