Water and technology

Political and social issues

→ Cloud Study (Early Evening), Simon Denis (1786–1806).


→ The production site of semiconductor manufacturer TSMC in Nanjing, China.


→ WiGLE, online database of wireless networks (GPS/WiFi/Cell/Bluetooth).


→ Ombres Blanches, Lab212, 3D sketch, top view.

The watery metaphor on the Internet

We “surf” the Internet. The “flow” of information. We store data in the “cloud”. Those who misbehave are “pirates”…

Fluidity is the ideal of the network. By relying on water, we are referring to an ideal way of operating. We're talking about a state we're working towards.

In the early 1990s, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman coined the expression "liquid society" to describe our flexible, transnational, communicational and financialised societies. To use the maritime or water analogy is to naturalise the Internet, to make it part of nature (1).

Water: access and inequality

More than ever, blue gold is a source of geopolitical conflict. Article 1 of the law of 30 January 1992 states that "water is the common heritage of the nation".

Water scarcity and access to clean water are significant social issues in many parts of the world. Water scarcity and management often involve complex political dynamics. This can result in political struggles and conflicts over water rights, control, and distribution.

The pollution generated by the manufacture of our digital terminals

Paradoxically, in the digital age, the more we "dematerialise", the more matter and energy we use. In the Brazilian Amazon, the Waimiri-Atroari rivers are sustainably polluted by the tin and tantalum mining industry. In the Baotou region of China, the extraction of rare earths is causing major toxic discharges into the air, water and soil. These raw materials are massively used in the manufacture of our electronic devices (2).

Environmental impact of the Internet

The Internet network is not "immaterial" either: it is made up of a multitude of IT equipment (computers, cables, antennas, etc.), which enable us to store and transfer data (videos, photos, emails, web pages, etc.) to our home or pocket terminals. All these digital technologies have to be manufactured and powered, generating a significant ecological cost (2).

Water and technology: a global issue

Water is a fundamental element in the production of semiconductors, essential components at every level of the information and communication technologies. The world's largest semiconductor foundry, the Taiwanese TSMC, alone consumes 156 million litres of fresh water per day. Among other factors, drought in Taiwan was one of the causes of the global shortage of electronic chips in 2020-2021.

Paper sources

(1) France Culture, Why so much water on the Internet? (FRA)

(2) Greenpeace, What is digital pollution? (FRA)


(1) OVH data center fire, Strasbourg, France, 9 March 2021.