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Of Shredders and Servers

July 20, 2011
at 10:00 am PST

How long do you expect your electronic gadgets to work for you?  Not necessarily how long will devices last before simply breaking, but for what length of time will they usefully perform the functions that you obtained them for?

With technological advances coming faster and faster nowadays -- and older systems therefore becoming obsolete quicker and quicker - plus a growing number of devices that have to keep pace with other online systems in order to remain useful, the useful lifespan of our gadgets seems to be shrinking.

A glance around my home office provides a snapshot of how long much of my electronic paraphernalia has been in operation

  • Paper shredder – 2 months (Replaced a broken 4-year-old model.)
  • HD video camera – 5 months  (Replaced a working 7-year-old non-HD model.)
  • Personal computer – 6 months  (Replaced a working 7-year-old model.)
  • Electronic dice, tsotchkes from a Data Center conference – 2 years
  • Wireless phone and answering machine – 4 years
  • MP3 player – 5.5 years
  • Electric pencil sharpener – 11 years
  • Star Trek toy phaser – 17 years
  • Solar-powered calculator – 28 years

Other than the fact that a calculator I bought for a math class when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States still works, what strikes me most about this list is that the items I have had for the least time I expect I will replace again before the oldest items ever stop functioning.

  • Paper shredder. Shredders don’t last in my house.  You would think I jammed phone books into them rather than old credit card statements.  Two years seems to be their useful life for me, typically.  That my last one worked for 4 years is a personal record, so I’ll be lucky if smoke isn’t pouring out of my current one before 2014.
  • Video camera. There’s nothing wrong with my prior camera other than the fact that I wanted to start shooting HD footage.  I routinely video blog at work.  Shouldn’t I be shopping for a professional grade camera one of these days?
  • Personal computer. The 7-year-old model I replaced remains quite capable on its own – I still do video editing with it on occasion – but the online world is quickly passing it by.  When surfing the web, one in three sites won’t display their content.  Hopefully my new system won’t similarly become a computing recluse by 2018, but I’m not optimistic.

I got to thinking about the usable life of electronic gear thanks to this week’s Data Center Deconstructed question, which asks how often we at Cisco refresh hardware in our Data Centers.  Click below to learn whether the lifecycle we use for hardware is longer or shorter than how fast I go through shredders.

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2 Comments.


  1. Whoa, I’m surprised about the personal computer! But for I guess for the most part, you don’t need a super computer to do regular everyday tasks. Be interested to hear what type of computer it was and what video editing you were doing as I have a model 2 years old that is struggling to edit videos… has me almost ready to buy a new one.

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    • Douglas Alger

      Hi, Sam. It’s an old Mac PowerBook with iMovie 5. Rendering is slow compared to my new computer, as you would expect, but otherwise I’m still happy with how it peforms video editing tasks.

         0 likes