Is the rate of obsolescence proportionate to the rate of technology advances?

ihomeA few years ago, those little iHome alarm clocks started to appear in hotel rooms. Cool gadgets that you could mount your mobile phone to battery charge or play the music on the device. We also had a few in our home. They worked perfectly for the iPhone4 since the connector was that 1 inch protruding plug. When I got the iPhone6, those clocks instantly became useless. Obsolete. At least the phone connector part lost its value.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

The rate of obsolescence. The state when an object, technology, service or practice is no longer needed or wanted…even though it still may be in good working order. E-waste is the fastest growing segment of the waste stream. With the technological advances, not only are we buying the latest and greatest electronics but we’re also dumping perfectly good, working devices at silly rates. There was even a story about a Central Park mugger who rejected a flip phone during a heist.

Sure, the new gadget is shiny, faster, better or does stuff the other one couldn’t. All commercial things have the typical emerging, growth, maturity and decline model and I started wondering if the rate of obsolescence is proportionate to the rate of technology advances.

Moore’s Law and Wright’s Law are generally regarded as the best formulas for predicting how rapidly technology will advance. They offer approximations of the pace of technological progress. Moore’s Law (1965) describes the rate of improvement in the power of computer chips – essentially, the number of components doubles every 18 months. Generally, the principle can be applied to any technology and says that, depending on the technology, the rate of improvement will increase exponentially over time.

Wright’s Law (1936), says that progress increases with experience. Meaning that each percent increase in cumulative production (in a given industry) results in a fixed percentage improvement in production efficiency.

A simple web search of ‘rate of technological advancement’ returns scores of images that show a huge ramp going up:

rate of advancement

But is there the same rapid decline chart for ‘out of date, lost freshness’ technologies gone by?

Nothing with a laptop falling off a cliff but there are certainly charts showing the rate of e-waste:

e-waste-management-17-728

The climb is not as dramatic as technology advances (yet) but it is still growing rapidly.

So there doesn’t seem to be (or I simply can’t find it) a direct correlation or chart that incorporates both technology advances and resulting obsoleteness. There are plenty of articles that do cover things that will be obsolete in the next few years (DVD players, landlines, clock radios); the jobs that will be obsolete (travel agent, taxi driver); and the things that became obsolete over the last decade.

There is a patent, US7949581 B2, which describes a method of determining an obsolescence rate of a technology yet that looks more at the life of a technology patent and its eventual decay and depreciation rate. Less citations over the years means patent decay. This is more about the depreciation of a specific patent rather than how society embraces and then ultimately tosses the technology.

The funny thing is that nowadays vintage items and antiques seem to be hot markets. Nostalgia is a big seller. Longing for the simpler times I guess.

And lastly, the rate of World IQ over time. Is there a connection with technology?

world_IQ_over_time

If you feel your infrastructure is becoming obsolete with all that cloudy talk, F5 can certainly help by providing the critical application delivery services consistently across all your data centers - private clouds, public clouds, and hybrid deployments - so you can enjoy the same availability, security and performance you've come to expect.

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E-waste image courtesy: www.slideshare.net/SuharshHarsha

World IQ image courtesy: http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/BRBAKER/