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Throw-Away Technology

Following my move to New York, my CD player stopped working. It would recognize discs — but give an error message when I tried to play one. Knowing that there is a CD and electronics repair shop down the block, I considered taking it in for repair, but because it was more than 10 years old, I decided to just buy a new one — and I found a good five-disc player for less than $100. I don’t feel good about leaving the old player on the curb, but even if it cost around $100 to repair, it feels good to have a new player. And I’m not sure why.

Following my move to New York, my CD player stopped working. It would recognize discs — but give an error message when I tried to play one. Knowing that there is a CD and electronics repair shop down the block, I considered taking it in for repair, but because it was more than 10 years old, I decided to just buy a new one — and I found a good five-disc player for less than $100. I don’t feel good about leaving the old player on the curb, but even if it cost around $100 to repair, it feels good to have a new player. And I’m not sure why.

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According to a recent survey in the UK, I am not alone. The BBC reports that more than half of people between the ages of 16 and 34 plan to replace their cell phones and DVD players every three years. Only 2% will continue to use the same technology tools for more than five years. Some critics say that tool makers have built in obsolescence — case in point, early iPods’ unreplaceable batteries.

For many people, I’m sure this is rooted in the introduction of new tools and features — cases in point, the iPod vs. a Walkman, the Sidekick HipTop vs. a Palm, and cameraphones. We want the latest and greatest. (OK, not everyone does.) But beyond that, I’m surprised. Who swaps out their DVD player every three years — if it still works OK? Barring the need for repair — or new features — such thinking seems short-sighted, as well as an unnecessary expense.

And the thinking has impact in our organizations and work lives, as well. Despite slacking investment in IT during the bust, some companies report that computer systems last two to three years. Oh, so? As long as I’ve worked at Fast Company, I’ve worked on hand-me-down laptops — good hand-me-downs because they came from our head of IT, granted, but hand-me-downs nonetheless. It was only last year or so that I bought a new laptop to use at work and home.

I can understand the allure of the new, but I cannot comprehend the waste that such upgrading brings — nor the expense it adds to companies’ operating expenses when times are tight.

But tell me what you experience. Who works for a company that gives you a new computer every two years? How long do you and your teammates use technology before it’s replaced?

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