Book review: Digital Hell: The Inner Workings of a “Like”

L'Enfer numérique

L’Enfer numérique : Voyage au bout d’un Like,
by Guillaume Pitron
First published September 15, 2021
English Expected publication March 7, 2023
by Scribe US:
Digital Hell: The Inner Workings of a “Like”
304 pages
Audiobook narrated byJean-Philippe Renaud


Wow, what an eye opener and a punch in the stomach! L’Enfer numérique: Voyage au bout d’un Like [Digital Hell: The Inner Workings of a “Like”] is about everything digital, the impact on our planet, and where our world is going. It covers the environment, geopolitics, and ultimately, our civilization.
Actually a very scary book.
I usually don’t read horror fiction, but I got my share of horror in this nonfiction book.

We usually think the internet as something quite immaterial, but the author shows this is absolutely not the case.

Guillaume Pitron is an acclaimed French journalist, with several awards for his research. He’s also written an important book, The Rare Metals War: the dark side of clean energy and digital technologies, which sounds to be just as scary.

As the book I listened to won’t be published in English until March 7, 2023 I’m pasting here my translation of the French synopsis.

“How can we suspect that a simple Like sent from our smartphones requires what will soon constitute the largest infrastructure built by man? That this notification, crossing the seven operating layers of the Internet, travels around the world, using submarine cables, telephone antennas, and data centers located as far as the Arctic Circle?

The “dematerialized” digital world, essential for communicating, working and consuming, is proving to be much more tangible than we wanted to believe. Today, it absorbs 10% of the world’s electricity and represents nearly 4% of the planet’s CO2 emissions.
But we struggle to understand these impacts, so much is our brain clouded by the mirage of a pure and ethereal cloud.
However, we must face the facts: if there is a “cloud”, it is black with pollution.

This investigation, conducted for two years on four continents, reveals the anatomy of a technology that is virtual only in name. Under the guise of limiting the impact of man on the planet, this technology is actually already asserting itself as one of the major environmental challenges of the 21st century.”

I think this already gives you a good idea of the content of the book.
I really had no idea about all the levels of pollution implied (including with millions of cables at the bottom of oceans), about all the energy and electricity and AC needed for mega data centers – sometimes to the detriment of the need of locals.
As a good illustration of that, Associated Press recently (August 9, 2022) published an investigation on how the mining of rare earths (needed for anything electronic in cars, phones, etc) has been ruining the environment in Myanmar – with no drinkable water now available for locals, among other problems. Please read ‘The Sacrifice Zone’: Myanmar bears cost of green energy.

So, what to do with this information?
Obviously, I cannot by myself save our planet, and my action are but a drop in the ocean. Still, if I ignore the situation, I can only contribute to make things worse. And if I join the people who try to act responsibly, it may help.

So I have been reflecting on my daily use of electronics and have started implementing a few things:

  • deleting tons of old emails – that do use energy to be kept on servers somewhere in the world)
  • unsubscribing from many newsletters
  • unfollowing a few book blogs that don’t present books I usually read
  • limiting drastically my postings on Twitter and Instagram
  • limiting drastically my visits on Twitter and Instagram, and my “likes” there
  • I had already limited a lot my Facebook activity

I have a list of other things I want to do:

  • unsubscribe from many youtube channels
  • delete my Facebook business page, as my France Book Tours business is no longer active
  • delete old unnecessary posts on my blog (giveaway posts and the like)
  • clean my Google drive
  • check what to do with my Pinterest account, which I rarely visit
  • clean my computer files

Positive things:
we only have one car, that we only use when needed.
we don’t have TV
I now use my phone (which I keep as long as possible) as an ereader

Tell me, are you trying to limit your digital use? How do you do it? Do you have resources helping you to do this?
Obviously, keeping a blog and posting about this is a contradiction, but if I only keep this blog as my internet presence, that will be a huge percentage off what I used to do before reading this book.

VERDICT: A major eye-opener and a punch in the stomach: how I am polluting the world with my use of internet and electronics, and what I can do to limit the problem. Probably the most inspiring book I will read in 2022.


What are you personally doing to help in this respect?



44 thoughts on “Book review: Digital Hell: The Inner Workings of a “Like”

  1. Oh, this sounds like a ‘must read’. There I was, feeling tolerably virtuous because I rarely print out any content that I see on the web – agendas and minutes for instance. I’ve never joined Twitter, left Facebook years ago and Instagram more recently, so I think my only social media presence is via my blog. I also can’t bear a cluttered email system, so I try never to have more than 30 emails in my inbox – and that’s too many – plus a few filed away for reference. My smartphone is a very basic model, and when I change it, sometime not very soon, I’ll buy second hand. But clearly I have no room to feel complacent. As country dwellers, our (one) car is essential, but we try to limit its use. TV? We have one, but have only used it for half an hour this week. Just today,we started to keep a watering can in the kitchen, do we can decant grey water into it to use in the garden. Not the same issue at all, but it’s all connected to the earth’s limited resources. Actually,dare I read this book? Will I be crushed by guilt? First of all, I need to source a copy. And it won’t be from Amazon, one of the world’s Bad Guys. Oof: sorry this ended up being so long!


    • Thanks for sharing. I think it helps encourage each other do what we can, and yes I only mention digital action and non-action, because of the topic of the book, but obviously there are lots of other domains to look at, such as our use of water.
      Actually not sure amazon algorithms are that smart. You made me curious: Pitron’s books are available on, with even a fairly large excerpt available for free.
      In the US, interlibrary loan is very efficient and free, I can get any book from any public or university library in my state of Illinois for free, or from another state for a few dollars, but alas, I’m afraid it may not be the case in the UK.
      I hope you can put your hand on it at one point.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks much for your post. This is an eye-opener. To think that we are saving energy when we are actually hurting the environment. Digital technology is not just changing how we perform our daily tasks, it is changing the way we communicate. As it is, I find that we are so reliant on our digital device that we appear to be losing the plot about being humans. Nature has been impacted for economic interests and in the name of global development instead of progressing or we are regressing as a human race?


  3. Ironic that I’ve read and ‘liked’ this post, will tweet it, and am composing a response to it, all on my phone.

    I was aware of some of the cost of ‘virtual’ communication, and in fact have already been doing many of the things you mention to mitigate and limit my virtual footprint (deleting emails and posts, unsubscribing from some action groups, limiting activity on Instagram and Facebook (though not Twitter).

    Thanks though for alerting us to this clarion call, and I look forward to the English language version having even more of an impact on our lazy habits and our thinking.


      • I’m rubbish at e-readers (I couldn’t manage a Kindle at all) so can’t claim to be virtuous in that respect. But I am only on my third ever PC/laptop (not counting an Amstrad word processor) since the 1990s and my third Android phone (not counting a Nokia), and mainly because they either could no longer be updated or because they became irreparable after seizing up.

        I also spend a lot of time deleting old photos, emails, pdfs and documents from storage and from the cloud – it’s amazing how much is just irrelevant or worthless.


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  5. I have this “discussion” with my husband, I keep any tech I buy until it absolutely dies – I am still on my generation 2 Kindle although it is fading, and I only change my phone when it has no more security updates. But he is forever buying new tech and then the rest sits around when it could be recycled at least, for use or parts! Maybe I should point him towards this book when it’s out in English!


  6. This book sounds very interesting, more than I could have imagined. I only have a blog, no facebook or other social media, except if Goodreads counts.

    But I have never watched my email storage since we switched to gmail years ago, and I could certainly clean a lot of that out. I will watch out for this book in the US because I would like to understand the issues more.

    TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery


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  8. I’d never have thought about the impact my blogging/social media/emailing could have on the environment. I’m afraid I am a terrible hoarder so my email system contains far too many old messages that I keep “in case” I need them.
    Part of the problem is that people now email when they would, in previous decades, just picked up the phone. In the company I worked for there were colleagues sitting in adjoining cubicles who sent emails to each other instead of just popping their head around the corner!


  9. Oh yes! I would love to read this when the English translation is published. I’ve read some shorter pieces on the subject which explained to me that every click uses electricity and the sheer amount of energy it takes to fuel the server farms which power the internet. Like you I’m taking some small steps to reduce my internet footprint similar to yours and have a pinned tweet explaining that I don’t usually like back automatically.


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  16. I’m really shocked. I had no idea about “likes” or saving email messages. I recently discovered Terra Cycle, a fantastic company that helps us recycle things our cities can’t handle, and I have my first “recycle everything” box from them, but there are so many other areas that I have been completely ignorant about. Wow.


    • Good job on doing that!
      Yes, this was a shocker. I have talked to many people about it sine, and basically no one around me knows for instance about the energy needed in data centers to keep your old emails


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  19. This sounds like a fantastic book. Thanks for that and for the list of advice you already posted. I have started unfollowing a lot of pages lately, will carry on with that and implement a few of the other things.


    • I’m also thinking implementing more, like deleting my Twitter account. Anyway Twitter is getting so bad now. Fighting the idea to join something similar, torn between need to use less onine media, AND need to keep up to date wth technology


      • I’ve never been on Twitter but I think I’d leave it now if I were. And there are so many other sites I like to go to, like news etc.

        And I hate how I am forced to buy new gadgets if I want to stay online, like a cellphone, I only replace it if I cannot reach anyone anymore though that also happens a lot more often than I would like to.


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