In Praise of Data Caps, a Dialogue
My home internet is capped at 350 GB per month. This is a limitation and it is good.
Wait, how is a limit on how much your internet can… internet… good?
Ah, a fair question. Like all pretensions to limitlessness, unlimited internet is a sort of fiction. Is there abundant bandwidth? Sure! But treating an abundant source as an unlimited source inevitably leads to waste. Data centres draw energy. The “cloud” is actually very much a thing of this earth, and it runs hot.
I see. So you’re either with Extinction Rebellion or rationalizing your SUV against my Netflix habit?
Not quite. The energy argument is not insignificant, but it’s also not a very convincing one, and it’s not why I decided to keep a data cap. Unlimited internet gives me pretensions of limitlessness. It turns out I’m a megalomaniac. Because I turned off auto-play on Netflix, I assume I won’t watch another episode, but I reach for the remote and do just that. Turns out I overestimate my power to make the choices that I wish to make. So, since I am very much not limitless with respect to my time, my energy, and my capacity for peak TV, but I am very much unbounded in my capacity to overestimate my powers of self-regulation, my data cap is good.
Turning off auto-play helps a bit; hitting a data cap helps more, especially when I have to keep some bandwidth for essential uses and not just entertainment.
Interesting. If I’m following you, what you’re saying is that it’s possible to want things that will harm us, and to struggle to choose otherwise, even after recognizing the harm?
That’s right. In Saint Paul’s formulation, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” There’s a gap between the knowledge that spending hours and hours in front of passive entertainment is not a great use of time and the potent cocktail of desires, fears, and sin in my heart.
Aha! You think TV is a sin, you fundamentalist!
Nah. TV is great because stories are great, and I consider a lot of it great art, but this comes back to pretensions of limitlessness and human habit to quench thirst with things that don’t satisfy, or even deepen our thirst. If I’m watching TV to vicariously experience human relationships instead of doing the work of actual human relationships, I’m probably in trouble.
Hmm, right right, ok. So I should call my mom and maybe not avoid my neighbour’s eyes when we run into each other?
That’s a great place to start.
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