Need for long-term thinking

Most of our best and brightest minds are focused on creating trash. Practically nothing tech is built to last. Practically nothing tech is built to recycle, disassemble. In fact, it’s the very opposite. The beating heart of tech is planned obsolescence, a culture that deliberately sets out to destroy products and services long before their useful life is over. All in pursuit of hacking growth and short-term profits.

We must shift to a culture that embraces:

  1. Long-term thinking: 10 years, 20 years, 50 years
  2. Timeless design—opposite of Fast Fashion
  3. Durable, rugged design, designed to last

We need long-term thinking around devices and data. For a typical digital device, 80% of its CO2 will be caused during the manufacturing phase. Many digital devices have extremely short lives, no more than two or three years. When you combine that with the fact that less than 20% of digital devices are recycled, and that even when they are recycled does not reclaim most of the materials, we see a scenario of enormous waste and damage to the Earth.

What actions can you take?
• Hold on to your digital devices as long as possible.
• Get them repaired.
• When finally done with them, immediately donate or sell them.
• If they are really broken, make sure they are properly recycled.
• If you have to buy, buy refurbished, remanufactured devices that use modular design that allows for easy disassembly, repair and recycling.

Long-term thinking when it comes to data is all about two things:

  1. Deciding which data should not be collected. The vast majority of data is useless waste, yet we still collect it because we can.
  2. Metadata.

Metadata is the data that describes and classifies data. Good classification is one of the best ways to ensure the longevity of data because it ensures it is easily findable. Clear instructions on how the data was created and how it works—particularly when it comes to computer code—are essential for the long life of data.

One of the best ways to design data environments that will last over the long term is to design a classification and structure based on tasks, rather than organizational units or software products or systems. Organizational units and software products come and go, but tasks last.

I worked on my first intranet back in 1997 and my last one in 2021. The tasks have remained the same. Over the years, we have run intranet Top Tasks projects in hundreds of organizations, with many thousands of staff voting on what they wanted most. The exact same tasks emerge year after year:
• Core tasks connected with making the product or service
• About me (training, jobs, pay, benefits)
• Finding people and collaborating
• News
• About the organization (structure, charts, history, management)

If you get the design of these tasks right by creating a solid classification and information architecture around them, then you create something that will last for 20 years or more because tasks like training and finding out about job vacancies remain constant over time. The systems, tools and organizational structure, on the other hand, are likely to change regularly.

It's the same with tourism. I did a tourism Top Tasks project back in 2003 and the top tasks were:
• Accommodation
• Special offers
• Getting here and around
• Things to do and see

These tourism tasks have not changed. Nor have municipality / council tasks. We did our first Top Tasks projects around 2005 and the top tasks were:
• Leisure activities
• Waste, refuse
• Libraries
• Schools
• Roads
• Health
• Safety

We have worked with more than 50 municipalities in multiple countries, the most recent one being in 2021, and guess what, the Top Tasks in 2005 are practically identical to the Top Tasks in 2021.

Task-based thinking is long-term thinking.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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