Kyle Wiens, founder of iFixit, is leading a team of journalists on a documentary trip in Africa to meet the community of electronics technicians who fix and remake the world's discarded electronics. Here, he describes the inspiration for the trip.
My physics professor summarized the Three Laws of Thermodynamics with an allegory: "You can't win. You can't break even. And you can't get out of the game."
That's because entropy always wins. Everything fails eventually. Food spoils. Cars break down. People die. When was the last time you broke a cellphone? My handsets are lucky to last a year without some form of major damage. Multiply my clumsiness by a couple billion other imperfect people, and you'll start to wonder how long it will be until the cellphone maintenance business is bigger than the manufacturing business.
But the truth is, winning the battle against entropy is essential to our future, because we live in a world run by machines. Our transport is powered by big machines -- locomotive-sized beasts lumbering across fields while hauling gigantic amounts of cargo. Our communications are powered by a global wireless network of over two billion cellphones, each using hundreds of millions of transistors. Our energy is summoned from incredibly robust oil wells drilled miles beneath the ocean surface.