How We Create the Wealth of Nations
Chapter 10: Software Innovation and e-Waste
In this chapter, we look at an unexpected example of the destructive side of innovation. We shall see that software innovation has been an important contributor to personal computer e-waste – that is, the disposal of personal computers that are still in perfect working order, but are unable to run the most recent software. When I first taught a class on this to our MBA students, a few years ago, they were astonished that there should be any connection between software innovation, which they saw as a very ‘clean’ activity, and e-waste, which is clearly a very ‘toxic’ problem. And indeed, the issue of personal computer e-waste did not really surface as a problem until 2002, and the connection to software innovation was only recognised from about 2005. Be that as it may, Greenpeace now recognises e-waste as one of the fastest growing types of hazardous waste. In this chapter we shall start with a short summary of the creative side of software innovation. Then we show, by means of a very simple model, why there is a connection between the rate of software innovation and the growth of e-waste. Next, we discuss why the problem is exacerbated by a tendency towards ‘software bloat’ and by some of the marketing strategies adopted by software companies. Finally, we assess the size of the e-waste problem and the damage it does.1
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