Right to Repair

Early this morning Joe shared a link to a Motherboard article describing how Apple has effectively killed another attempt to pass "right to repair" legislation by suggesting people will injure themselves when working with the intricate components that are part of the phones, tablets, and other devices we buy. As someone who could never build a computer from scratch in the 90s without cutting my hands at least once inside the case, I can certainly see the logic of the argument. While the Motherboard article clearly calls out the dangers of puncturing a modern battery, the number of phones with shattered screens that one can observe being used on public transit in this country is nothing short of amazing and it's bound to be the same elsewhere. For an inexperienced person to replace the shattered glass on an iPhone or iPad, there will almost certainly be a price to pay in blood.

A few hours after Joe's initial post, Robert followed up with this:

But if one makes the assumption that regular people either can or want to repair their devices, we are nothing short of delusional. Most people only what something that works, they don’t want to fuck around with it. Modern electronics are painfully integrated, components are few and specialized on a tiny PCB. Does the average person even know what they are looking at if they were to open the case of any contemporary device? […] Those of us who so loudly demand the right to repair, which is a broken term in and of itself, need to understand that we are the edge case and not the standard.

Indeed. Edge cases are consistently hard to please. I consider myself to be firmly in this category, hence the preference for certain types of less popular hardware and software. However, Robert goes on to make a recommendation on how a "Right to Repair" mechanism might work to the benefit of manufacturers and customers:

If one were so concerned about regular people cracking open their wares and potentially injuring themselves, there are better solutions. Perhaps a course that people could take, educating on the ways of the electronics and giving spare part access to those who pass a test or something along those lines. […] Think; certification for individuals to perform repairs.

This is an interesting idea. While it will not please everyone, it will please some of the more technically inclined who might want to run a small business fixing people's devices. A high school student with certification and access to fairly-priced replacement parts could earn a pretty respectable living and reduce the number of cracked screens in their school, thereby saving fingers from being sliced open before a screen protector can be applied. The same can be said for people in poorer neighbourhoods who might want to help their community get more value from their technology investments. Offering a certification program is no panacea, and it would undoubtedly ruffle a bunch of feathers like Robert said in his original post, but it would make an interesting solution for companies who claim they care about the health and well-being of their customers, as well as the environment. Repairing is better for the planet than replacing.

Personally, I doubt there will be much people-friendly movement from companies on giving people the ability to repair (or easily upgrade) their products. Systems have become so incredibly complex in both hardware and software that only a small segment of the population could actually stand a chance in repairing a broken device. Take apart a "smart speaker" and see just how easy it is to replace a burned out capacitor. Most people just want things to work and don't really care to invest the time in understanding the how or why, which is fine. That said, there will generally always be options available to people who want a greater degree of control and freedom over their technology. It may not always look as pretty or be as popular, but options will exist.