Living in a de-material world: The design and maintenance of sustainable social networks


September 29, 2011


Tom Finholt


School of Information


A natural response to unsustainable increases in energy production and use is to seek ways that each of us can decrease our energy footprint. However, it is daunting to identify and adopt personal lifestyle modifications that result in meaningful reduction or elimination of energy consumption. Development and maintenance of social networks is an arena where we face choices that could reduce our energy impact. However, the energy costs of social network choices are currently unknown or difficult to estimate, making it challenging to offer prescriptive recommendations. This talk describes a new program of research at the University of Michigan that addresses this challenge through: assessment of the ways different technologies are used in concert to help people build and maintain social networks; measurement of the use-phase power consumption of social network technologies, including social computing; and development of approaches to model the overall use-phase power consumption of an individual’s social network across information and transportation systems. Expected contributions of this work include the first descriptive and predictive models of social network energy use and identification of individual behavioral changes with the greatest ability to reduce overall energy consumption associated with social networks.


Tom Finholt

Thomas A. Finholt is Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He received his Ph.D. in Social and Decision Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University and his B.A. from Swarthmore College. Dr. Finholt’s research focuses on the design, deployment, and use of cyberinfrastructure in science and engineering. He was a co-developer of the world’s first operational collaboratory, a co-founder of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work (CREW), and the inaugural director of the NSF’s summer research institute for the science of socio-technical systems. Currently, Dr. Finholt is the PI on several NSF-supported projects, including a Virtual Organizations as Socio-technical Systems (VOSS) award to study large, cyberinfrastructure-enabled scientific collaborations, such as Open Science Grid. He is also leading an effort to measure the impact of supporting multi-site conferences through the use of telepresence systems. Finally, Dr. Finholt has just initiated an effort to measure and model energy consumption across technologies used to form and maintain social networks, including transportation and information systems. During the fall 2011 term, Dr. Finholt is a visiting faculty member in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.