I mentioned this on Bloomberg early this morning, but its worth exploring further: What is the average half life of your favorite technology?

We operate under the false assumption of substance and solidity, when in reality, things are deeply in flux. Everything changes, nothing lasts.

The various technologies we use are physical manifestations of ideas, but the reality is that most of these concepts are replaced after a very short period of time.

Consider that live performers was how we heard music for 10,000 plus years; then albums (~75 years ), then a variety of tape media (Reel-to-reel, cassettes, 8 Track, DAT), then CDS, and now those shiny silver discs are being replaced with MP3s and AAC lossless.

Consider these other technologies — how long are they likely to be around?


-Internal combustion engine

-Broadcast Television

-Organ Transplants


-Cell phones

-Screen touch/Swipe

-Credit Cards

What is the Half Life of Your Favorite Technology?

Category: Cycles, Philosophy, Technology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

51 Responses to “What is the Half Life of Your Favorite Technology?”

  1. Thor says:

    Interesting list BR – What do you mean by Organ Transplants- PC’s though?

    Books – I’ll bet publishers will always print out a small run of hard copy books for those of us who prefer old fashioned reading.

    Combustion Engine – at least about 30-40 years

    Broadcast TV – a decade

    Credit Cards – You mean the physical cards? Gone within a few years I’ll bet.

  2. Oops!

    Missing hard return!

    I’ll fix

  3. mikderby says:

    Here are a couple of more for you:

    Land line telephones – going, going gone….

    “Basic” Cable TV – does anyone still get “basic”?

    Pay phones – good luck trying to find one….

    “film” photography – except for maybe professional photographers and only then traditionalists…

    I disagree about the physical credit cards – unless they get replaced by some other “device” such as “RFID like” cellphones or key fobs – how else will people “pay” for things….?

    Which brings me to the last item….

    Cash – except for drug dealers and ladies of the evening!

  4. bergsten says:

    Favorite technology — Swiss Army Knife — half-life — infinity.

  5. TerryC says:

    If you believe in the Singularity, then the half-life of humans in their current form is about 2035.

  6. TripleB says:

    Credit cards – the news out of Google/Citi today would indicate they are soon on their way out –


  7. joeyfishface says:


  8. willid3 says:

    by PC I am guessing you mean desk top. And that does have a short life expectancy going forward. not sure, what will replace the cell phone? so far all that has happened to them is they get fancier. but they aren’t going away. yet. IC engine. depends on what happens to oil, the price of oil, and when we hit peak oil. It could be gone as we know it today in 20 years. or less, or it could just be modified to use some other fuel. really hard to say. Books have been looked at for replacement for some time, but its really hard to replace their ease of use, and they don’t need much in the way of care and feeding. but with some of the newer tech, we can see one thing that books have against them, they take up a lot of space if you have a lot of them. also a bit of a fire hazard (or so my wife keeps telling me!)

  9. jaymaster says:

    I hate to be a word Nazi, but those tapes and cd’s were also mostly “albums”.

    Albums are by definition collections of things, like photos or songs.

    MP3’s or what have you could be albums, but are more commonly purchased as singles.

  10. Todd in SM says:

    Great topic that my wife and I discussed briefly this weekend. We are shopping for a “fun” car under 15k and decided on a Cooper S. We were looking at a mid-2000 (03-05) models and several had a nav system in the large center oval position on the console. My wife voiced frustration over why someone would choose such a useless feature over the cool looking retro MPH and other guages. I patiently reminded her that although it was only 6-8 years ago, beck then there were few smart phones with huge bright screens and nav aps or google maps.

    Short life for dash mounted nav systems.

  11. jaymaster says:

    Watching Obama now, and he’s looking like he is past his half life. At least as President.

  12. you know, given this/these..

    Land line telephones – going, going gone….

    “Basic” Cable TV – does anyone still get “basic”?

    I wonder..

    is it being suggested that ‘Triple Play’, over ‘landline’, is going to obsolete ‘twisted Copper pairs’ (?)

    as http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=%22Triple+Play%22+Fiber%2FCoax will lead to/suggest..

    Or, is the Individual a proponent of the ‘Wireless Way’, a la http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=LTE+4G+WiMax+Wireless+Broadband (?)

    I ask, b/c one way, at the expense of the other, is a very risky proposition…


    maybe, it’s a Hobson’s Choice, and http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=Ham+Radio+communications+backbone+in+Egypt+Libya should be ‘boned-up’ on (?)

  13. Rouleur says:

    …today i still have hundreds of vinyl records, mostly jazz and blues and purchased in the 70′s…i like to play them late at night and loud…lots of tape has come and gone, I have fond memories of an 8-track Sony recorder, also 70′s and then, the ubiquitous cassettes – those are, for the most part, all gone…been using ipods in more recent years…remember sony walkman?

    …i have collected and read hundreds of hard cover books…fiction and non, although mostly non in recent years…recently purchased an iPad 2 (5 weeks back-order, at least 5 components of the device are believed to be sourced from Japan, hope it is not glowing when it arrives)…i do like having a library of hard cover books, if only for it’s aesthetic value.

    …some electronic ID scanning device will replace cash and credit cards, presumably analogous to a debit card…beware the banksters affecting the regulations…cash?, Shirley, you jest – electronically, it will be much easier to adjust the number of 0′s in the denomination of the USD

  14. MayorQuimby says:

    Great topic Barry.

    I understand the need for new technologies and growth. I understand that jobs are created by destroying existing technologies.

    But does it all have to happen so darn QUICKLY?!!!

  15. The Window Washer says:

    I was trying to think of something with a very long half life that’s only been around a little while.
    So I’d say:
    Sythetic Dildos appear to have staying power.

  16. Thor says:

    I thought you meant to break those two apart. You and I must have similar readings when it comes to growing human organs. We’re up to ears, noses, and bladders so far, I’ve read that they think they’ll be able to grow more complicated organs like livers and kidneys within 10-20 years, imagine if they’re able to eventually grow hearts and lungs and what that might do to the average human lifespan.

    Interesting times to be living in, that’s for sure.

  17. Rouleur says:

    …”The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”…Albert Bartlett

  18. MikeInSF says:

    Fender Telecaster: 60 years.
    Fender Twin Reverb guitar amplifier: 45+ years (so far). Both still in production today.

  19. VennData says:

    Dictators, as a form of geopolitical organization?

  20. J Kraus says:

    One of my favorite technologies is the distillation of fruits and grains into fine spirits. How long will such technology be around? Most likely as long as man continues to walk upright.

  21. mitchw says:

    The Space Shuttle, hold your breath

    Analog Classical recordings on 33rpm records. From my cold dead hands.

  22. Bob is still unemployed   says:

    Sometimes technology doesn’t go away permanently, it just lurks waiting to be rediscovered. Entertainment was once delivered to the house by wires, then David Sarnoff’s Radio Box Memo came on the scene sometime around 1918.

    “I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a ‘household utility’ in the same sense as the piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring music into the house by wireless.

    “While this has been tried in the past by wires, it has been a failure because wires do not lend themselves to this scheme. With radio, however, it would seem to be entirely feasible. For example–a radio telephone transmitter having a range of say 25 to 50 miles can be installed at a fixed point where instrumental or vocal music or both are produced. The problem of transmitting music has already been solved in principle and therefore all the receivers attuned to the transmitting wave length should be capable of receiving such music. The receiver can be designed in the form of a simple ‘Radio Music Box’ and arranged for several different wave lengths, which should be changeable with the throwing of a single switch or pressing of a single button. …”

    So we went from the unsuccessful delivery of entertainment to the home via wires, to using wireless, and now we seem to be back to delivering entertainment via wires (cable TV) once again.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same…..

  23. hightechbigfoot says:

    I know it is not eco-friendly, but I prefer to read a book (or my nook) using the warm glow of a incandescent bulb and not any of the new, less power hungry types. But I fear it’s time may be ending soon.

    This post made me think of what Ed Tom Bell in “No Country For Old Men” said about the rapid changes in society: “Signs and wonders.”

  24. anyway, not to look like I was lobbing a Softball..

    maybe, We should peep, this Story, from Ten Sleep (Wyoming)

    The Flaw in Obama’s Wireless Plan By Brendan Greeley – The residents of Ten Sleep, Wyo., know the meaning of rural. They didn’t have phone service until the 1950s, when Tri-County Telephone Assn., a municipal cooperative, used federal subsidies to string copper wire to every home. In 2005 the co-op upgraded to fiber-optic cable, giving the town’s 300 residents Internet access at 20 megabits per second…


    and, yes, w/ DHS, and, other, assorted Criminals about, We should wonder, not only, ‘Why Wireless?’, but, also, ‘donde “Civil Defense”?’ ..


    in a Museum, much like the Constitution–in a Sarcophagus..(no?)


  25. Rouleur says:

    JK@8:50 – undoubtedly so…a truly enduring technology…

  26. bulfinch says:

    My .2 cents:

    -Books : Never going away. What is the half-life of romance? There are entire cities centered around the printed word. See: Hay-On-Wye.

    -Internal combustion engine: Never going away. May one day become an esoteric artifact coveted and collected by the dedicated few who love the sound of 8 pistons firing coupled with the smell of steel and oil.

    -Broadcast Television: This has been in the mail for so long, yet continues to defy the reaper.

    -Organ Transplants: The days of growing spares from out of the chute seem to be just around the corner. There was some interesting news a few years back in Scientific American about growing new adult teeth using cell buds and ultrasound.

    -PCs: You’ll be able to do everything with your phone in ten years: Even print out food.


  27. Jack says:

    And we all know what “half life” means, right? Half life of 8 tracks? Half life of whale oil?

    Organ transplantation is a great one on the list. We can only hope that technological replacements will be made. In the meantime, be a donor. Do not worry that your organ is defective. Let the professionals decide.

  28. jaymaster says:

    Yikes, just thought of another one I hope isn’t quite there yet:

    The dollar.

  29. wally says:

    Fire abides.

  30. Transor Z says:

    Coin-operated parking meters – 10 years

    Hand-written voting ballots – 15 years

  31. jaymaster says:

    RE: the dollar. Oops, I cut and pasted at the wrong point, and left off my zinger…

    The dollar’s period of dominance started around the same time as vinyl.

  32. S Brennan says:

    Thorium Reactors are my favorite technology…half life? Well…the waste products half life is 500 years.

    And it burns nuclear waste…and it produces 500 times less waste….and the nuclear reaction needs power to go forward, nature provides a dead man’s switch.


  33. plantseeds says:

    Unless it’s outlawed I don’t think cash (except maybe back to coin) is going anywhere. The trillion dollar “underground” economy can’t run without it. Just because many don’t need it or use it anymore doesn’t mean its going away.

    The ICE may be on the way out of cars but it will still be the source if you need or want real power for now. Don’t forget, besides any two stroke engine , gas turbines, jet engines and most rocket engines are ICE too. We’re keeping the ICE for the foreseeable future and you will be able to buy one with cash I think.

  34. Rouleur says:

    jaym@10:19 – 1913?

  35. Andy T says:

    “MikeInSF Says:
    March 28th, 2011 at 8:12 pm
    Fender Telecaster: 60 years.
    Fender Twin Reverb guitar amplifier: 45+ years (so far). Both still in production today.’

    The Stradivarius Violin….

    No longer in production but with a pretty huge 1/2 life.


  36. jaymaster says:


    1913 would have been the “wax era”. Same sound reproduction technology as the vinyl some of us are still familiar with, just not quite as firm.

    That was followed soon after by the shellac era. Firmer than wax, but kind of pricey. And brittle.

    Vinyl (and dollar) was conceived around the same time, but it didn’t come to the forefront until around WWII. Cheap and easy to reproduce, and quite strong.

  37. DC says:

    Good call on the Strad, Mr. T.

    1) Mechanical clocks and watches. Until there’s a digital device that needs no electricity they’ll be with us.

    2) Bicycles. Only a couple of hundred years old but they work, and again no need for batteries or fuel.

  38. obsvr-1 says:

    Commodity product packaging – 4-5 years — and they say no inflation … just tell everyone it is the new Ethiopian serving size.

    Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Smaller Bags

  39. nemo says:

    If a technology does the job right, it never gets replaced.

    How many centuries have buttons and shoe laces been around? The zipper didn’t make the button obsolete.

    And Velcro didn’t make the zipper obsolete.

    The book is going to be around forever. It does the job right. E-books will supplement it, just like the zipper supplements the button, and Velcro supplements the zipper. But the books is never going away.

    The same for cash. The credit card is great for some things, but isn’t annoying that you and the retailer have to pay to use it? And pay a lot more than it’s really worth? Cash is here to stay. Credit cards, debit cards, and any other technology that comes along will only supplement cash.

    The internal combustion engine? I already made a bet with people at work — engineers all of them — about 9 years ago that the internal combustion engine will still be the primary form of personal transportation in 2016. I’m on track to win that bet. And I’ll win that bet in 2026 as well.

    Someday the internal combustion engine will go away. But not any decade soon. The newer technologies ain’t gonna be ready push it out the door for quite a while yet.

  40. ray kurzweil was on Charlie rose the other night, he pulled our his phone and said that the computing power in here used to take up a whole building and cost one billion times more to produce. The other thing he said that sticks is that a kid in Africa can pull out a cell phone and have access to more information than the president had only 15 years ago.
    I’m always struck by the idea that even in 100 years the houses on my street will look more or less the same. The electrical outlets will probably be as useless as the phone jack is today and the fireplace will be a relic as the gas heater will be for sure, but as you drive by in a floating car the street view will not change that much.

  41. obsvr-1 says:

    The dollar has long past its half life which would have a purchase power of 50 cents … currently at 3 cents.

  42. bulfinch says:

    I still use a landline…if there’s ever a solar flare and your cell phone eats it, I’ll still be able to order a pizza.

    nemo: thanks for your astute response. You are right: most new tech supplements existing tech.

    I like when Barry asks questions like this to the peanut gallery, but I wish he’d chime in with his own take. He seems very future-man in many ways, but I’m curious what articles of obsolescence he’s unwilling to give up.

  43. HEHEHE says:

    Not to make anybody paranoid but you might want to read this NYT piece:

    It’s Tracking Your Every Move and You May Not Even Know

    “But as a German Green party politician, Malte Spitz, recently learned, we are already continually being tracked whether we volunteer to be or not. Cellphone companies do not typically divulge how much information they collect, so Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts.

    The results were astounding. In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin”


  44. bjorn says:

    Gillette razors—Good to great to greater
    Walker mowers—A BMW for your yard
    Amazon–priceless in all it’s permutations

  45. Longball111 says:

    You can’t beat a books battery life.

  46. cthwaites says:

    Production Motorcycles.

    Technology is to cram as many HP into a 500cc (2 stroke) or 1000cc (4 stoke) as possible with strict limits on weight and engine mods. It’s thus a good proxy for consumer available technology. The retail price for the bikes in 2011 is about $12,000, less than half what it was in real terms 10 years ago. So hedonic adjustments at work here too.

    And we have great measure: the annual Isle of Man TT. The advantage is that the same course has been used annually since 1914. It’s a 38-mile loop run and 4 laps

    Average Speed for the race.

    1930: 71 mph
    1940: 89 mph
    1950: 93 mph
    1960: 102 mph
    1970: 101 mph
    1980: 109 mph
    1990: 111 mph
    2000: 121 mph
    2010: 131 mph

    So seems to be reaching some peaks here. Still, for the grin factor not sure this technology will ever go away. Drag racing Prius’ doesn’t have the same cache.

  47. nofoulsontheplayground says:

    How about orbiting satellites? In 2008 China blew 35,000 pieces of space junk into orbit to make a point to the USA. If they did that about 2-3 more times, it’s likely we wouldn’t be able to orbit satellites anymore.


    People think the next big war is going to like recent wars, but China’s smart. All they have to do it blow up some satellites, and everyone’s GPS could go dark, leveling the playing field a bit.

  48. kcowan says:

    The problem with these types of prognostications is that they do not anticipate the discontuities.

    When will Moore’s Law become obsolete?

    The iPhone made the iPad possible. Remember back in 1991 when RIMM introduced the Newton pad? Just 20 years too soon…

    When did CDs become obsolete? Did anyone notice? What about DVDs?

    Remember when dialing a phone involved generating mechanical pulses from your phone? I didn’t think so! Some things just quietly disappear without fanfare.

  49. budhak0n says:

    @HEHEHE. If you have an Iphone (not sure if it’s out for other platforms since I’m a self centered ego maniac!),
    you can do it yourself. It’s called Latitude.

    The “landlines” have to stay in business because they are what right now connect the cellphone towers.

    No way in the world will Cash ever be obsolete in the US of A. Cash will always be around.

    Well it’s possible they might do away with “credit” cards due to the fact that the only people who use them excessively have too high a propensity to default. You’ll still have a “credit” card but just not in the sense that most consumers are used to having. But that’s completely up to the people extending credit lines.
    From that perspective, just looking at it as a financial “tool”, it really doesn’t make any sense to have anything other than a run of the mill Amex but there will always be money to be made from the balance transfer freaks

    The whole idea of a packaged piece of media at all ( CD/DVD/BluRay, etc) although they’ll definitely be around at least another decade or so really makes very little sense to me. With the advent of USB and cheap memory sticks why not just sell content like that? No need for thousands in packaging, maintaining huge stores full of inventory and employees who hide in the break room lol.

    Come on, who are we kidding? People don’t adjust to tech changes “That” quickly, they were still selling VHS media a good decade after that should have been obsolete. You have to look at the consumer public, not the bright people who could do without all the rigamarole.

  50. [...] to our early conversation on the Half Life of favorite [...]

  51. kaleberg says:

    I’ll ditch my landline when cellphones support extension lines. Right now there are two of us living here, and setting up a conference call with our cellphones whenever someone calls that we both want to talk to is a complete nuisance. Extension lines should be trivial to implement, especially when cellphones have WiFi, but I doubt I’ll be seeing it soon. Also, landlines stay on when cell towers and power go out.

    My favorite technology is cooking, and I don’t see cooked food going away very soon. People have been eating cooked for for maybe 100,000 years, and it is much more digestible than raw food which can sometimes be toxic.

    I also really like shoes, especially good, comfy running shoes. I think shoes are in for the long haul.

    Laptop computers are also here to stay. I think most people will move to something like a cellphone or the iPad, but it’s hard to type with an iPad, and you have to hold it up to read or watch movies. (I actually sit with my laptop on my lap.) If worst comes to worst, I can always get some duct tape (another technology not going away real soon) and slap an iPad together with a keyboard and some cardboard to prop it up. That’s not rocket science.