"Made to Break"

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Repairing things, a subject right up my alley. What boy or girl wasn’t guilty of taking apart an old alarm clock or two in their youth, some of which may have become the very people you take your vehicle to when its due for maintenance or for that unforeseen break down, perhaps they are now the very engineers designing the everyday products we use. Sadly, these engineers have failed us and you may have heard the phrase “it was made to break”. It seems like our everyday objects are made with a deliberately shortened useful life so that their makers could profit from forcing consumers to replace or upgrade them. 



This feeling was popularized in the 1960s when there was concern that automobiles were not built to last, but that was small potatoes before the digital age. Today, electronics from microwave ovens to laptop computers, appliances (and yes, those cars again, but now with embedded electronics) are not easily repaired. 


But wait, what’s happened to your old fashioned T.V. Repairman? A exert from a 2008 “The Implied Observer’s” article from a Fremont T.V. Repair shop owner certainly tells us : 


There’s nothing left to say, he continued, pushing past drifts of gutted cases, dusty repair manuals, cardboard boxes, circuit boards and coiled, tangled nests of electrical wire that once were the central nervous systems for televisions.

“We live in a throwaway society,” said the 60-year-old repairman and soon-to-be former owner of Adams TV in Fremont. “It got to where I just couldn’t fight that anymore.”


it’s surely no accident. In many cases, manufacturers don’t make or distribute spare parts or share diagnostic tools. The result? A lot of digital technology is headed toward a premature burial in local landfills. That’s an increasingly costly environmental problem and it’s also outrageously wasteful and unnecessary.


The problem of electronic equipment entering the waste stream is significant. Even in places where electronics are accepted as recyclables, studies show people often don’t bother. It’s just too easy to toss a dead phone in the garbage can without thought to the toxic mix of chemicals and heavy metals contained inside, not to mention a potentially explosive battery. Advocates estimate that more than 20 million tons of end-of-life electronic products are produced every year.North Americans should view that as an embarrassment but also an opportunity — even recycling costs money (chiefly to sort and break apart devices) whereas reuse is not only more cost-effective, it’s potentially profitable.


There are challenges, of course. Manufacturers will no doubt resent greater government oversight of their successful business model. There will be cries of proprietary secrets, of diminished brand value, of resale rights, perhaps even of liability. But none of these hurdles seem impossible to overcome. And surely, it is far better for companies to voluntarily step forward and embrace an ethos of repair than to face potential penalties down the road like getting billed for every cellphone, robotic vacuum or Bluetooth speaker that ends up at the landfill or local incinerator.


Protecting the environment is just one of the potential benefits. Extending the life of products creates jobs and these are jobs that would effectively be distributed widely like electronic products — not just in one or two locations but across the country in cities, suburbs and rural areas, where these items are used. It would also likely save taxpayers money, not only in extending the life of these common household items but in creating less burden on waste disposal. Remember that 20 million tons of electronics? If every blue whale alive today were measured on a scale, all those consumer items would be heavier. About six times heavier, according to the Digital Right to Repair Coalition.


The pandemic has led to an increased interest in repair as people need to save money in the COVID-19 economy and don’t want to risk infection by going out to purchase replacements(I've covered a little on the low income family post covid in my last article "Uncertain thinking for Uncertain Times"). But we also see another benefit in repairing these items beyond tangible advantages like saving money and reducing waste, there are psychological benefits in repairing belongings like inspiring creativity and making people feel self-reliant all the while learning a new skill. 


Covid-19 has also changed our relationship with technology and it's obvious that laws need to catch up as many more now need devices to work and learn.


It would seem that the future of this fight will lay with the high courts of your country, in the U.S. this has extended to Congress and the Supreme Court, too, where justices made it clear in Impression Products v Lexmark decision in 2017 that refilling ink cartridges (a form of recycling) was not a violation of patent rights. Ultimately, this ought to be common sense. There is hope however with 14 States Are Now Considering 'Right to Repair' Legislation as of February this year and many more have passed various versions of repair Acts into law however further development on this probably won’t happen unless those in political power continue to give manufacturers at least a serious nudge in the right direction and you can bank on manufacturers circumventing these acts with loopholes to keep what they believe is a loss of profit to a minimum.


companies have tried to cling tightly to nonsense in a bid to derail momentum. Usually this involves perpetuation and spread of nonexistent harms that threaten public safety and security. Apple last year insisted that passing a right to repair law in Nebraska would turn the state into a "mecca for hackers, or this year when the auto industry tried to claim that expanding Massachusetts' existing consumer tech law, to make sure that independent garages could access tools and diagnostic gear, would result in a "boom in sexual predators." The multi-sector quest to demonize the right to repair movement is relentless, and almost always involves making up bogus claims related to security and safety. 



                                                                                 - S.M. Jenkins








Last modified on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 17:22