Letter: Can we save energy costs without an over-reliance on technology?

These days, governments and reputable institutions like UBC are increasingly advocating for a greener lifestyle and encouraging opportunities for the creation of innovative energy-saving strategies.

In a lecture hall the other day, I wondered if we need to take a step back from the technology rat race and question whether a 21st-century lifestyle that relies heavily on advanced gadgets and devices is in line with such explicit motivation and incentives.

Inside a UBC lecture hall — or any university lecture hall for that matter — the majority of students have their laptops turned on throughout the session but are only typing out notes for a fraction of the time. The minority pulled out their pen and paper instead.

Before we remark that many students with their laptops are more technology-savvy and staying ahead of the game, maybe we should consider fast-forwarding past school hours when these same students are to return home to recharge their computers and smartphones.

How much more energy can be saved when you compare using electronic devices and working simply with “energy-free” stationery? If we were to take into account the increased cellphone charging, use of automated sensors in public buildings on campus, are we really going greener? This has yet to consider the resources we are using for leisure, entertainment and miscellaneous non-educational purposes.

A recent figure showed mobile phone owners spend an average of 90 minutes a day on their phones making calls, texting, etc. At a presentation last year, Facebook Head of Marketing Michelle Klein revealed that the average millennial checked their phone at least 157 times per day.

It is no wonder that a survey study in the US reported college students checked their phones and devices more than 11 times in class on average. I can recall instances of spotting students in our lecture halls having both their phones and laptops turned on simultaneously side by side on the tables. Is this a double blessing or trouble?

Perhaps we need to perform an evaluation of how much excess energy consumption there is between the '70s lifestyle, when people didn't recharge their devices each time they ran out of power, and the present, when things happen around the clock.

To what extent has our campus community been made aware of these figures — and are we implementing strategies to minimize the growing demands for energy and electronic devices? It appears that there should be a more healthy balance of focus between energy use reductions and energy efficient technology to reduce the pressure on the energy production industry. BC Hydro, for example, has been increasingly encouraging residents to save energy while elevating electricity costs in recent years. It hints at the burden an energy-craving world is putting on the supply end, which is painstakingly trying to meet the growing demand as population increases.

How much energy can we save without powering our computers and major automated devices to work most of the day? Although we may never get to go back in time, we can still make wiser choices by rethinking our philosophy and strategies. The first step to take is, perhaps, to conduct accurate research and comparative analysis of past and present energy demand in the community, with the UBC campus as an ideal place to start, because the future of our community begins from here.

UBC students are fortunate to be offered the latest technology in access, learning, communication and the exchange of academic resources and ideas with peers and faculty. Perhaps we may see this as a great opportunity to utilize the myriad benefits associated with advancements in education. It would be impossible to completely do away with these devices when wireless is all around us, and even more unlikely that every student would regress by coming to lectures with just pens and paper.

However, it is time to realize that there are both rewards and downsides to technology, and that our campus might be overemphasizing the positive. As individuals, we could still make personal choices that arise from responsible consideration of the potential benefit and burden our action would leave on the community and environment. We should find out more clearly whether the cost of technology outweighs the resources available to sustain its progress into the future, and make plans to address possible overuse both on personal and team research levels.

Based on this Canadian research, students could check-in with themselves regarding the extent and nature of their device usage in the classroom and if their GPAs at the end of the term are sounding alarms, which is just one more reason to justify turning their laptops or phones off — especially in the lecture hall.

Rowena Kong is a fourth year student, studying psychology.