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Communications of the ACM


What Is the Cost of Living Online?

connected world, illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Modern life increasingly is defined by the activities we engage in online: Zoom meetings at work, Netflix and Xbox marathons at home, and a steady stream of YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook video clips in the nooks and crannies in between.

There are many benefits to life online, yet there are also undeniable social, economic, and environmental costs. While global emissions from video streaming and other digital activities comprise somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% of the total,a the voracious and growing appetite for bandwidth is raising concerns about sustainability—and prompting some to wonder whether it is possible to keep up with the demand.


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