Living Lab Scholars
Yani Kong, PhD candidate
School for the Contemporary Arts
Yani is a doctoral candidate in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. Her area of study explores practices of relationality or interconnection in reception aesthetics. She organizes her work under the art history umbrella, with a focus on the contemporary period, theory and criticism. She holds an MA from Trent in Theory, Culture and Politics and a BA in Art and Culture Studies from SFU.
Tell us about yourself
In my at-home life, I’m a mother of a nine-year-old budding pro-dancer, and my husband and I are partners in a small restaurant called the Arbor, in Mt. Pleasant, Vancouver. Besides the news obsession that many of us have cultivated in the last year, I try to make sure that I experience as much art as I can, however it is possible. I write reviews for a few Canadian publications, so I have been fortunate and deeply heartened to see all the creative ways artists and galleries have been continuing to make and show work in this new life. In my other slips of time, I maintain an avid fiction habit, and low-key fashion obsession.
Why did you decide to participate in SFU’s Living Lab program?
I came to this project because of one of Laura Marks’ many research projects that also tackles the carbon footprint of streaming media. From Laura, I learned the invisible cost of streaming, and the connection between Netflix and chill and burning coal for energy.
Since public health restrictions brought all our activities home, I became really aware of my personal energy strain caused from the constant streaming we have become dependent on, not just for entertainment but for all social activities and work. With my daughter learning from home, my husband taking Zoom meetings, and me studying and teaching from home, I began to grasp that the streaming dirge from my own house was multiplying exponentially in homes everywhere.
I’ve taught remotely for the last three terms, and while students and instructors are all getting more efficient with these methods for learning, I feel really conscious of the 250 students in my classes streaming their film content, lecture material, and Zooming for classroom discussion, and repeating this for three to five courses, on top of the streaming they are doing as they get by in their daily lives. Add the idle time of Instagram Stories to the already heavy load of streaming classes, and the average student is deeply plugged in and entrenched in a massive consumption system.
Tell us about your research project
University teaching has shifted abruptly to a reliance on streaming media in our mode of delivery, with many university courses taught via video conference, and student and faculty research has pivoted to remote models. This increased reliance on information and communications technologies (ICT) comes at an environmental cost that is rarely acknowledged. Driven by data servers, networks, and consumer devices, ICT currently emits 2.7–3.3 percent of global greenhouse gases and is projected to comprise 7 percent of global greenhouse emissions in 2030 and 15 percent in 2040. Streaming media contributes more than any other sector to this increase. Some may argue that online teaching will conserve energy, as teachers and students will not rely on transportation to get to the classroom. However, we argue that streaming media exemplifies the “substitution effect” of ICT, where other types of products are replaced by their digital equivalents. This project responds to the urgent need to immediately reduce ICT’s contributions to the global climate crisis, and the rising share of streaming media, by measuring university outputs and developing education and policy shifts in response.
Our emphasis is to build classroom awareness on the electricity consumption of streaming video and corporate-driven streaming dependency; to teach the environmental impact of media in all aspects of its production, distribution and consumption; and to incorporate into the curriculum methods for students and staff to develop mindful media consumption practices.
What problems or challenges does your project address?
Specifically, it intends to make tangible the otherwise invisible impact of streaming, beginning with online teaching and learning. Because streaming does not hold a physical weight, I think many people feel satisfied in the thinking that streaming contributes to less material waste and fossil fuel burning. In South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, streaming comprises one of their top energy uses, yet Korea’s energy is coal reliant, so when you are watching Netflix, you are burning coal. In BC, we are fortunate to rely on renewable hydro-electric energy, but the dams utilized to produce this energy impact the environment and displace Canadian Indigenous People. Not to mention that most streamed content must pass through up to five servers across the continent, so for Bridgerton to arrive in your home in Vancouver, it is burning energy from places elsewhere, often in the states that rely on fossil fuel and nuclear power.