WTF is Right to Repair?
As much as it pains me to admit it, my entire world relies on technology. From the simple act of making a cup of tea to balancing my finances, everything I do has shortcuts afforded to me by devices that I have paid hard earned money for.
You can split these devices into two categories. Essential and Luxury. I would go out on a limb and say that at least 90% of the things I use in my everyday life could be classed as luxury. The smartphone I am using right now to type this document is without a doubt a luxury item. I could as easily use a pen and paper to do the same job but I have managed to accumulate enough in my working life to afford this blessing.
The same applies to you and many more people across the world. A fair percentage of us work day in day out to be able to afford not only luxury items but essential ones too that make our lives easier. Our problem as a consciousness however is in how we act when both the essential and luxury items we possess begin to malfunction.
If my smartphone were to break, my first reaction would be to find a fix. If the screen breaks or the speaker ceases to output sound I would first look at replacing that component if at all possible. Small problems like this happen hundreds of times a day; to millions of people across the globe.
Unfortunately my reaction to a broken product is not the same as everyone else's. The main reason for this frame of mind is not entirely the fault of the general public themselves but more a fault in the c
onsumerist system and how technology is not only produced and marketed but also in how it is maintained and how long we expect them to last.
The production of electronics is in itself broken.
From the moment a new product (smartphone or otherwise) is released to market the consumer is buying into a dead end. An item with a finite lifespan that gets shorter with each cycle. The old adage that "things aren't built the way they used to be" is true now more than ever.
Not only that but if a problem with that item occurs, the solution provided by manufacturers is simply to replace it entirely. When you replace a broken item with another, what then happens to the faulty one? Parts of the item are still of use; the components may be viable to be used again. There are so many people in the world that do not have the means to buy a new product too. But more and more faulty items are completely discarded and not recycled correctly, let alone repaired to extend their lifespan.
Right to Repair is a worldwide movement that wants to change the way technology is designed, released, and maintained at a base level. A push to change the methods used by big companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, Sony, Huawei, Nintendo, Panasonic, Microsoft, and so many more. To make them accountable for the longevity of the products they make and to give more power back to the consumer.
At the moment if you were to attempt to repair your device yourself or have someone you trust repair it for you, there are a few roadblocks you would face:
Firstly, the ability to have the product repaired is troublesome as many companies are very guarded about their technology, patents, and parts. This means that only authorised technicians are able to complete these tasks and these services are not always accessible to all.
Secondly, if you dare to attempt a repair yourself you will undoubtedly void any time-limited manufacturer warranty you have and thus all responsibility that the original brand would and should have had for that item is gone.
Lastly and probably worst of all, the cost of a repair will usually outweigh the cost of simply replacing the item outright. The chance to
upgrade to a newer item and squeeze more money out of the customer is often the first path that companies take when a problem arises which is just plain wrong. .
Breaking down the system. What can be done?
Many of the largest electronic companies retain access to parts when producing their tech and these are not as readily available as the products themselves. Creating a central registry or hub or even a whole new sales outlet based on the availability of replacement parts that everyone has access to would be a massive step in the right direction. Reducing the cost of parts so that repairs do not cost more than a replacement is also a huge priority.
Proprietary tools and fittings are a massive hurdle when it comes to repairs, not to mention the guarded nature of how products are put together. The movement wants to set a minimum design requirement with government legislation that means that all technology is sold with the ability to be fixed by any person that wishes to do so. To assist in this, access to schematics or repair ma
nuals for all products is also high on the agenda.
Since 1994 in the EU, white goods like refrigerators, washing machines, ovens, and air conditioners have been labeled with information regarding their energy efficiency. This has been expanded over the past 3 decades to include light bulbs, televisions, and even cars. A similar labelling system can easily be administered to rate repairability of electronics, granting users the ability to gauge their purchase based on the longevity of a product as well as it’s impact on the environment.
What is actually being done?
On July 8th 2021 the UK government instigated a new “right to repair” law which means that manufacturers are obligated to make spare parts available to consumers and that products should have a minimum lifespan of 10 years. These companies have 2 years to make the necessary changes to their practices. Unfortunately the new legislation only covers most white goods mentioned previously and not consumer electronics like smartphones or gamin
g devices so there is still work to be done.
Overseas, Microsoft made public that they are currently monitoring the right to repair situation and will produce a report by 2022 to show what they are willing to do. Although it is a slow and laborious process, 27 US states are considering new laws that will grant consumers more rights. Plus US President Joe Biden and the FCC have also backed the movement and acknowledged that more needs to be done.
In both Germany and Austria there have been reports of government backed repair bonus and voucher schemes which have allowed consumers to get their goods repaired by local technicians at repair cafes and workshops with up to a 50% reimbursement (capped at 100 Euros).
What can you do?
At the moment the movement is working at a governmental level across the globe to change how things are done and you can register with your nearest group online to take part in any actions they organise. Simply search for “right to repair” to become a part of your national movement.
As part of your search you might also come across local repair groups and events which you can volunteer at, spread awareness of, or even donate to. These groups, more often than not, are non-profit organisations so any assistance that you can provide will go a long way to helping the cause.
Unfortunately the big companies like Apple only think of their bottom line, their profits. They are deaf to the shouts of the people that care about the environment and the waste that they are encouraging.
At the end of the day though, the most basic thing that you can do is question your own thought process. If your television starts to look faded, if your computer is slow and sluggish, if your hoover isn’t as powerful as it once was, then what do you want to do about it?
Replacing it shouldn’t be your first thought. Repairing it should be. By Androo, R-CADE, Nov 2021