In a setting of economic and infrastructural collapse, the inability to manufacture and maintain computing resources will be an enormous limitation on the continued use of technology. The concept of “rot” exists for both hardware and software, referring to a slow loss of functionality over time. Given a desire to maintain technological capability, we raise a variety of questions about technology use in such a scenario. How long will current hardware last through repair, robust construction, and good maintenance practices? What would software development and maintenance entail without today’s Internet infrastructure? What can be done to keep our software stable and usable for as long as possible in the face of viruses, storage degradation, and other threats? We present rough estimates of the expected longevity of desktop and laptop hardware for various levels of maintenance, and argue that software and hardware degradation together jointly limit how long devices will remain usable for computing tasks, especially those involving any exposure to external files or networks. We propose both physical and social strategies to guard against both modes of degradation.
Esther Jang, Matthew Johnson, Edward Burnell, and Kurtis Heimerl. 2017. Unplanned Obsolescence: Hardware and Software After Collapse. In Proceedings of the 2017 Workshop on Computing Within Limits (LIMITS ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 93–101. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3080556.3080566
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