This last week the technology press has been agog with 3D TVs, Slates and Google’s Nexus One at CES, and predictions for the next decade. I wasn’t there. I don’t mind too much because Vegas is so unreal that it is easy to get carried away with the marketing hype and miss the big picture. So, to offer a little balance, I’d like to propose some alternative predictions for the next decade.
I think that in a world running out of resources it is time for the technology industry to grow up and shoulder its responsibilities. The planet is running out of food, land, water and energy which is pretty bad. But it also running out of scarce metals and minerals which are required to build our high tech playthings. This is going to be tough because most technology products are bought to replace perfectly serviceable products with only a small margin of additional functionality, and sometimes little, or negative, additional benefits.
Looking ten years ahead is pretty important because with a 2 year development cycle and a 5 year market lifetime, we’ll be designing products that will still be being used in 2020 really soon.
So here’s my top ten:
- All packaging must be immediately recyclable. I mean it. No, no, really, adding anything to the packaging which renders it recyclable will mean that the manufacturer will be responsible for recycling / disposal (and yes that includes adding stickers to cellophane).
- All products will have to have energy star ratings like fridges. This will have to include any “standby” mode.
- All products will have to carry “scarce resource” audit information – we need to know if we are using up are large amount of scarce resources on a piece of trivia. You can imagine a Lifetime Scarce Resources Index; “this product represents 20% of your recommended lifetime consumption of terbium” (hey, 99% of it comes from China, so don’t smirk).
- Price will get really complex as “cost” will take on new meaning as carbon credits, and perhaps other scarce resource credits, will have to be purchased in order to better represent the cost to the planet.
- In order to ensure the most effective use of materials manufacturers will have to support products from cradle to grave, including appropriate recycling at EOL.
- No product can have “built in obsolescence” – manufacturers will have to prove that products will not be wasteful as they approach end of life. You know the problem; you have to eject a perfectly serviceable $500 product because it will cost so much to source and replace the $5 widget that just wore out.
- Purchasers will have to prove that they intend to use, and have the resources to maintain, the product for its lifetime. No, really. Why should we let you buy this product if you are going to leave it to gather dust when someone else could make better use of those scarce materials?
- Product recycling and swap markets will become a big deal as they will entail the passing on of a product’s liability. If you have to make good use of the product, and then realise that you don’t need it, you might even pay to give your product to someone else if it has a high “planet cost” in order to dispose of the liability.
- Waste will become an illegal, intentional waste (buying something you don’t intend to use fully) will become criminal.
- We’ll return to the “make do and mend” philosophy of the war years; products will need to be easily serviceable and parts replaceable (that means you don’t have to replace the whole headlamp assembly when a bulb blows).
Let’s hope that the technology industry proves to have answers to our problems rather than exacerbating them.
And with that I wish you all a Happy New Decade.
 Don’t believe me? Then think of the consumer audio market where folks spent $000s in the 60s & 70s to get the “best” sound, then replaced the vinyl deck it with a CD player than limited the dynamic range (but avoided the scratches) and then an MPEG3 player that compressed away the rest (but meant you didn’t have to scatter album sleeves all over the floor when hunting for your favourite tracks).
 A soft, silvery-gray metallic rare-earth element, used in x-ray and color television tubes. Atomic number 65; atomic weight 158.925; melting point 1,356°C; boiling point 3,123°C; specific gravity 8.229; valence 3, 4.