The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Disposable Electronics

Cellphones and cameras don’t ripen, like bananas, on the way to the store

3 min read
Image: Daniel Hertzberg
Image: Daniel Hertzberg

In the back of my closet is a padded leather case containing my precious 35-mm film camera and lenses. I thought the investment in these things would last me forever. Now, however, that leather case is cracking, and the camera goes unused. Meanwhile, in a desk drawer lies a careless jumble of digital cameras, including the most recently purchased one. I feel no special affinity for them—they just come and go, and rather quickly at that.

Cellphones are just as bad. I understand that about a half million are thrown away every day in the United States alone. This means that the average life span is about two years, which puts dog years to shame. In human terms, the cellphone loses about a month of its life every day.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

Keep Reading ↓Show less