Electronics are everywhere today. Practically everyone in the United States has a smartphone, computer, television, tablet, e-reader, smartwatch, wearable, and dozens of other devices. But how many of them does every American use throughout their lifetime?
Is it possible to tell how much digital stuff you’d use from the day you’re born until the day you die? Surprisingly, there is. With a handful of statistics and a little bit of math, these are the numbers on how many devices you (and your cat) will use throughout your life.
Why a cat?
Because the Internet loves them and so do we.
How long your devices will last
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How long do devices live?
On average, the most common devices in the world have a pretty short lifespan in the US. The numbers below aren’t necessarily how long you can use something until it breaks — it’s how frequently Americans replace their devices.
- Smartphone: 1.8 years
- Tablets: 2.2 years
- Servers: 3 years
- Laptops: 3-5 years
- Desktops: 4.6 years
- Televisions: 4.6-10 years
- Routers: 5 years
- Coffee makers: 6 years
- Entry-level DSLR camera: 13 years
- Professional-grade DSLR camera: 55 years
With the exception of a professional-level DSLR camera, most people will go through lots of these devices throughout their lives. And even with a professional-grade DSLR camera, a career photographer could go through multiple models over the course of several decades. But that still begs the question: How many of these devices will you (and the average house cat, of course) go through in your lifetime?
Now that we’ve established the average life of devices, we need to look at the average life of people (and cats). In the US, the average man or woman will live about 79 years. The average cat lives about 12. That’s enough time to lead a rich, full life in the US, even for cats. It also means you have a lot of time to try new things, enjoy new technology, and toss out obsolete technology. (That actually creates some problems with digital waste, but we’ll skim over that issue for the purposes of this infographic.) With about 80 years’ worth of sand in everyone’s cosmic hourglass, how many devices will you burn through in your life?
Cell phones: 43.9 (6.6)
In the US, each citizen changes their phone every 1.8 years. So if you bought a phone January 1, 2016, you’ll have a different one on October 21, 2017. Statistically, anyway. Over the course of your life, that winds up being about 44 phones. Over the course of your cat’s life (provided you have one of those cool cats with thumbs), that’s 6.6 phones.
The irony of this statistic is that cell phones actually haven’t been around 80 years yet, so no one person has had 44 phones over the course of their lifetime yet. Although there are undoubtedly people out there who have had more. It’s even stranger because cell phones are built to last longer than that — you can still find noteworthy people using flip phones in the world, including the mayor of New York City.
And those went out of style with the iPhone in 2007. The problem isn’t that these products don’t last, then. The problem is that they become obsolete, or there’s at least a newer model on the market. Smartphones have technically been around since 1993 with the creation of Simon.
But they didn’t really catch fire until June 29, 2007 when the iPhone was released. While there’s a 14 year difference between those two release dates, there have still been an incredible number of smartphones released to the public — 580 in total, according to Wikipedia. If we use 1993 as the beginning of smartphones, that’s an average of 25.2 new smartphones every year.
That’s 2.1 per month, or one new smartphone every two weeks. If we go by the 2007 as the beginning of smartphones, that’s an average of 64 new models every year. That’s 5.4 per month, or 1.3 new smartphones every week.
Again, that’s a huge difference, but not by the standards of consumer electronics. Whether there’s a new smartphone every week or every two weeks, someone’s going to jump on it and replace their previous model. With that in mind, it’s actually kind of surprising that Americans change every 1.8 years.
It’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often. Also, at the current rate of smartphone renewal in America, it would take about 1044 years for someone to use every smartphone that’s ever been released. Regardless, the world is expected to migrate away from smartphones as a concept sometime soon.
Tablets: 35.9 (5.5)
Tablets are even younger than smartphones by 9 years, if you consider Simon to be the first smartphone. Although, surprisingly, Americans change tablets less frequently than smartphones. Americans go through about 36 tablets through their whole lives.
(At least they would, if tablets had been around for 80 years.) Your cat, on the other hand, would go through 5.5 before going to the big sandbox in the sky. There aren’t nearly as many different tablets in the world as there are smartphones. All in all, we only have about 187.
That’s about 13 new tablets ever year, or just more than one per month. At the current rate of tablet consumption, it would take about 411 years for one person to use every tablet in the world. Your cat, on the other hand, would only use 5.5 tablets in its lifetime.
Still, that’s pretty incredible to have so many high-functioning electronics that the country’s cats could have half a dozen just to themselves in one lifetime. Ah, luxury.
Laptops: 15.8-26.3 (2.4-4)
Laptop computers are a slightly different beast from phones and tablets. They perform the same functions, but they’re a little more robust and costly, so people tend to use them for longer. They also tend to live longer, though their processing power and capabilities decreases more quickly than phones and tablets.
From birth to death, an average American would go through about 16 laptops, though they could use as many as 26 depending on their purchasing habits. There are thousands of different laptops out there, especially since the advent of notebook computers and the hybridization of laptop-tablet convertibles. But laptops are also among the most popular electronics in the world, right up there with smartphones.
Since their invention, they’ve gradually taken over the computer market share, gradually edging out desktops in academics, business, and even gaming. It’s the same path all technology takes — why use something bulky when you can get the same power from something smaller? But laptops don’t make up the entire computer market share.
Desktops are still popular.
Desktops: 17.2 (2.6)
Desktops are the classic form of home computers. They’re typically also more powerful than their laptop counterparts. They’re also robust and costly, so they tend to last longer than laptops.
Still, depending on the kind of laptop someone gets, desktops can short out pretty quickly. That’s why the average American goes through more than 17 of them in their lifetime. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include any of the accoutrement that goes along with desktops like keyboards, mice, monitors, or speakers.
It’s all just the desktop tower. Still, getting 4.5 years out of a desktop computer isn’t bad. And if you properly care for it, you’ll probably get even more out of it.
You’ll also run into the same problem you’ll find with smartphones — eventually, your desktop will be obsolete. But so far, we’ve just talked about electronics that you use first-hand. What about the more passive ones that you use every day?
Routers: 15.8 (2.4)
Since the advent of wireless Internet access, routers have been one of the most high-demand electronics in the world. They’re the common denominator for phones, tablets, computers, and anything else that requires Internet connection. Today, that makes them absolute necessities.
It also makes them some of the most-used electronics in the world. For the most part, wireless routers are constantly on. That means they’re constantly relaying a signal, and they need to be made for practically zero downtime.
That’s a huge challenge right out of the gate, so it’s kind of a miracle that they last as long as they do. But there’s a problem with this number — there are a lot of different routers in the world. Some of them are made to handle a handful of devices, and others are designed to handle hundreds of connections at one time.
Some people also use their routers way more frequently than others. And others could break from a power surge or falling off a table. But that’s every device.
Still, an industrial-service router is way different than a consumer unit, so those units may be skewing this average a little high. Then again, how often do you actually have to replace your home router? You may have to unplug them every once in a while, but for the most part, wireless Internet technology is pretty solid.
And speaking of the Internet, we should take a look at the destination of your devices when you utilize wireless Internet — web servers.
Servers: 26.3 (4)
Servers are essential for the Internet to work. They’re the storage and data centers that you access whenever you do anything online with the exception of peer-to-peer connections, and even those have a server in the middle ground sometimes. Granted, not every individual person owns a full web server for themselves.
That’d be expensive, and even most webmasters choose to buy “real estate” for their sites and files from hosting services. But even with those hosting services, you can expect to outlive the server you’re using right now — and maybe a dozen more. With such a short shelf life, servers are a major problem with ewaste, especially since they require a full data wipe before recycling (kind of like computer hard drives).
So you can recycle them or buy them used, but they won’t last much longer than they would out of the box. But on top of the servers themselves, you also have to think about cooling racks, wiring, coupling, and other equipment that make a server work. With those elements constantly wearing out, a single server can be responsible for dozens of pounds in electronic waste.
It can also cost several hundred (or thousand) dollars over the course of its life. So maybe it’s best that only a handful of companies and individuals own their own servers. Otherwise, there would be a lot more electronic turnover.
DSLR Cameras: 1.4-6.1 (1)
DSLR cameras are the most popular types of photo and video equipment in the world for consumers and professionals. Their quality is great, they’re reasonably priced, and they can last a long time. But that time isn’t necessarily measured in years — it’s measured in shutter durability.
The shutter is the part of the camera’s lens that snaps closed every time you take a photo. Using the shutter gradually wears down the camera to the point where you either have to replace the shutter or get a new camera. Most of the time, it’s just easier and cheaper to get a new camera.
You’ll also get a bit of an upgrade with a new purchase too, since camera image quality is still increasing over time. While it’s not quite as dramatic as the increase in data storage, Google’s produced the world’s first gigapixel camera already. That’s more than a billion pixels in one image, enough to reveal the tiniest details in paintings and surfaces without going microscopic.
Will there be a gigapixel DSLR sometime in the future? Probably not. But if Google already has one, then the camera itself will probably get smaller and more affordable, as almost all technology does.
Regardless, even today’s amateur DSLR cameras are made to last for years. They’re strong enough to live through regular use, and professional-grade cameras are even sturdier. If you get a pro-grade camera and only use it occasionally, there’s a good chance it’ll be the only camera you need in your life.
Televisions: 7.7-17.2 (1.2-2.6)
Plasma and LCD TVs are way stronger and more reliable than the old cathode ray tube options. Modern flatscreens have the capacity to last for years, measured in continuous on-time. Plasma screen TVs last significantly longer than other high-definition televisions — usually around 90,000 hours.
LCD TVs, on the other hand, last about 40,000 hours. So if you were to leave your TV on literally all the time, you’d go through 7.7 TVs throughout your life (or 17.2 if you use LCDs). That’s not many.
In fact, you’ve probably already had more than eight TVs throughout your life. You’ve probably had more than a dozen! That’s because people replace TVs more and more frequently as they get more advanced and affordable.
The combination of a better experience with a cheaper price tag makes new HDTVs pretty much irresistible, especially when you have disposable income. So the next time you’re on the market for a new TV, it couldn’t hurt to check out a thrift store or a pawn shop. You might find something with a lot of life left in it.
Coffee makers: 13.2 (2)
Coffee makers don’t necessarily fall into the same category as the other devices on this list. But we added them because people use coffee makers every day, and with the advent of the Internet of Things, you’ll probably connect yours to WiFi pretty soon. Regardless, on average, you’ll go through 13.2 coffee makers during your caffeine-fueled life.
The standard coffee pot holds about 12 cups of coffee from each brew, too. So if you brew a full pot every day for 79 years (although please don’t let anyone start drinking coffee as a toddler), that’s 28,835 pots of coffee — or 346,020 cups. It’s unlikely anyone really drinks that much coffee in a day though.
That’d be a hardcore case of caffeine dependence, and that person would probably get splitting headaches the moment their body tapped out of caffeine. Anyway, hopefully you don’t cross the 250,000-cup threshold with your coffee maker. Although if you’re above average, you’ll probably pass it in spades.
How many pounds of digital equipment does the average American use in a lifetime?
So after crunching all these numbers, we had another question — how much does all this stuff weigh? According to ewasteguide.info (and c|net), this is the average weight of the devices we’ve examined:
- Smartphones weigh up to half a pound
- Tablets weigh about 0.875 pounds
- Laptops weigh about 7.7 pounds
- Desktops weigh about 22 pounds
- Routers average about eight pounds
- Server blades weigh around 20 pounds
- With lenses, DSLR cameras average three pounds
- A 30” flatscreen TV weighs about 30 pounds
- Coffee makers weigh about nine pounds
So let’s assume people change their electronics as frequently as possible. That equates to:
- 95 pounds of phones
- 4 pounds of tablets
- 5 pounds of laptops
- 378 pounds of desktops
- 4 pounds of routers
- 526 pounds of servers
- 3 pounds of cameras
- 516 pounds of TVs
- 8 pounds of coffee makers
Altogether, an Internet-savvy American with their own web servers would go through about 1,939.35 pounds of everyday consumer electronics in their lifetime. That’s just shy of a full ton, or roughly two fully-grown grizzly bears. That’s a lot of tossed electronics.
How often do you replace your tech?
Are you always in line for the next iPhone? Or do you still have a Nokia from 1997?
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