It’s impossible to get a PS5, your iPhone is on backorder, and no one’s seen a graphics card in the wild in months. It seems like no matter what kind of electronic gadget you’re looking for, it just can’t be found. What in the world is going on? The short answer is a global chip shortage caused by a confluence of factors ranging from the ongoing pandemic to geopolitical tension and, as always, some crypto nonsense.
The long answer is … complicated.
As Usual, Covid Is the Obvious Problem
It’s easy to put it out of your mind most days, but every device you own—including the one you’re using to read this article—is made up of dozens of specially designed microprocessors that require even more specialized factories to manufacture them. That was already a complicated process to maintain, but when the pandemic hit in early 2020, it threw a metaphorical wrench in the very literal gears.
The rise in working from home correlated with an increasing need for more devices. Tellingly, webcams were almost immediately out of stock as millions of people shifted their meetings to video chats and wanted something that looked better than their laptops’ built-in webcams. Similar pressures to buy new laptops, phones, tablets, headphones, and dozens of other devices put a strain on microprocessor supply. At the same time, demand for cars—which also require dozens of built-in electronics—dropped in early 2020.
Factories that manufacture microprocessors don’t turn on…