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Technology through rose-tinted spectacles

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I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, who was bemoaning the fact that his mobile had recently given up the ghost.

“Why is modern technology so rubbish?” he asked. “My first phone gave me a week’s worth of life from one charge, and it was bomb-proof. My grandad had the same TV for thirty years and it never once crashed because of a firmware update or hung while it buffered a film!”

It’s tempting to view the technology of yesteryear as more robust, functional, and reliable than today’s. The thing is, your grandad’s TV only had to pick up five channels, and that phone you had in the 90s did three things: calls, texts, and playing snake.

As our expectations of what technology can do have shot up, the complexity of the devices themselves had increased, but the cost to the consumer has never been lower, in real terms.

Technology through rose-tinted spectacles-Body wrap up image (350x250)Not only has the hardware cost dropped, modern technology has reduced the cost of getting things done. Take watching a film for example. At one time it would be shown in the cinema, then maybe, if you were lucky, would get a VHS release about nine months later. You’d have to wait for that, then spend around £15 for the video (or rent it, if your local video shop had a copy), which always involved physically taking yourself into town, then coming home to play it on a £400 VHS player. Now you can be sitting on your sofa, decide you want to watch a film, pick up your phone, open it in any one of many apps, and cast it to your TV in seconds through a £30 device.

“But my phone only lasts two years now!” complains my friend. True, although hardware tends to last longer in the hands of those who look after it. Considering modern phones are more powerful than desktop PCs of ten years ago, with heat-generating components squeezed into a tiny aluminium shell and glued onto a piece of glass, then carried around for days in warm, moist, dusty pockets, I’d say two years is a decent shelf life.

These same people often complain that manufacturers deliberately build hardware to break, so we have to buy new ones. It’s truer to say that manufacturers build consumer tech to a cost. They can, and do, build much tougher hardware for industrial and military use, but this costs many multiples of what we pay on the high street.

And the pace of change we see has sparked a corresponding race to deliver better technology.

During its lifecycle, my friend’s grandad’s TV never had to deal with anything more complicated than when it needed to be retuned for Channel 4. Today, as services and software become more and more powerful, it suits consumers to have devices that are relatively cheap to upgrade. But this raises another issue – the disposability of technology and its impact on the environment. The entire lifecycle of a computer or phone has implications for the planet, from the mining of metals used in its chips, to the CO2 generated in making and distributing it, to the power it consumes while it’s in use, to the toxic chemicals it can leak when it’s disposed of.

That’s why Dell has committed to several initiatives as part of our 2020 Legacy of Good plan. These include drop-off, mailback, and collection-based recycling schemes, trade-in programmes, donations schemes, and efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our supply chain.

So next time you’re tearing open the box of your new mobile, laptop, tablet, smart watch or drone, spare a thought for its predecessor and consider how you can enjoy your new toy, while disposing of the old one responsibly.


David Angwin

David Angwin

David is a leading spokesperson on cloud client-computing - which brings together desktop virtualization, thin and zero client computing, unified communications, mobility and cloud computing technology. With over 25 years’ experience in IT software, hardware and services he is able to speak with authority on desktop and mobile computing choices and their impact. David’s background includes technical and product management, bringing new solutions to market, as well as marketing and business management roles with US and UK-based high-tech companies.

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