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Cerf's up

On Durability

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Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton G. Cerf

I'm no economist, but I have become convinced that our consuming societies, at least in the economically "developed" world, have become sources of harm to ourselves and our planet. One has only to read about single-use products (for example, plastic bags and bottles, packaging material, straws, paper cups, gift wrapping) or short-use products (for example, mobile phones and other electronics) to recognize this is a serious and huge problem. This consumption drives a significant part of the economy. It isn't just relatively modest per-item costs either. We probably don't use automobiles as long as we could (and should) before we want the latest and greatest. There is a category of goods called durable goods that typically have longer usage. Washing machines, refrigerators, ovens, stove tops, fireplaces, utensils, and dishes fall into this category. This line of reasoning makes me wonder whether we could shift the pollution needle toward longer use products as substitutes.

While it is not a solution to all short-use goods, software can contribute new functionality without requiring replacement of the underlying hardware. A good example of this is found with the Tesla electric cars. They are heavily dependent on software for their operation and upgrades with new functionality are frequent and unobtrusive. One wonders whether this concept could increase the useful lifetime of at least some products. Of course, the idea is not useful for nonprogrammable goods, like plastic bottles and paper towels!


Harrison Pratt

Yes. We need more things like the CorningWare Pyrex (Pyroceram) cookware that was introduced in 1958 and still abundantly available at garage sales and resale stores today. If we ask ourselves why a technology (smart phones) that, for example, increases pedestrian visits to the ER and interferes with childhood education is essentially unregulated the answer, in part, is "because of the massive money spent by the tech lobby." People have forgotten the most glorious feature of email: it is asynchronous -- you can reply thoughtfully when you have time. Instant-messaging in all its various incarnations is a mind-drug invented by Satan, sometimes useful but more often an addiction.

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