America’s economic and political inequality has led workaday Americans to exclaim: “The system is broken. Let’s fix it!”
But there’s another version of this protest that I’m hearing more frequently these days: “The system is fixed. Let’s break it!” That certainly applies to such rigged systems as money in politics and voter suppression, but it’s also relevant to seemingly mundane matters that restrain our personal freedoms.
One of the insidious “fixes” we need to break is the claim by brand-name corporations that we consumers must be banned by law from repairing the products they sell to us! The weak battery in your cell phone, the fuel sensor in a farmer’s tractor, some gizmo in the toaster you bought, a fuse in your business’ delivery truck — you could fix all of these yourself or, with little hassle, take the problem to a local repair shop.
But, no, such manufacturing powerhouses as Apple, John Deere and Panasonic assert that only their corporate technicians are authorized to open the product — which you own! — to make it work again. So, you are expected to deliver it to their distant facility, wait however many days or weeks they tell you, and pay an inflated price. They’ve literally fixed the “fix” for consumer products. They impose their control by making the products as needlessly complicated as possible, then claiming that the complexity is their patented proprietary product. Thus, they say they don’t have to provide repair manuals or sell repair tools to consumers or independent shops. Gotcha.
To give their closed profiteering system the force of law, the giants have deployed armies of lobbyists and lawyers to legislatures and courts, arguing that self-repair people really are scoundrels trying to circumvent safety and environmental rules.
At least since the invention of the wheel, people have fixed, tinkered with and improved every device they’ve possessed. It’s been a human right.
But after several thousand years, suddenly legal clauses are being tucked in purchase agreements saying that today’s owners of products MUST NOT even peek, much less poke inside the inner workings of our devices. Makers of anything with a computer chip in it (everything from your car to your toothbrush) have been especially vehement about this, rewriting human nature by outlawing our right to repair. Yes, they assert, you own the thing, but we own the intangible ideas that make it work, so if the product malfunctions, you must return it to us — and pay us a premium — to repair it. Plus, they prattle, you could hurt yourself trying to do it yourself, so trust us.
Bovine excrement, barks Steve Wozniak: Companies inhibit your rights so they can have “power, control, over everything.” Is he some consumer radical? No, Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple, the multibillion-dollar global goliath that is the world’s biggest producer of consumer electronics. He’s appalled that Apple has now become a fierce opponent of self-repair. He says, “We wouldn’t have had an Apple” except that early innovators like him grew up “in a very open technology world.” From the start, Wozniak point out, openness helped spread innovation and consumer demand.
“So, why stop… the self-repair community,” he asks? Two big reasons: Besides letting corporations lock in monopoly profits from the repair industry, it also dissuades customers from bothering with repairs — just throw the thing away and buy a new one!
If you wonder where such massive, deadly levels of pollution by bead, mercury, plastic, etc. come from, look to the gross throw-away ethic of big tech profiteers like Apple.
For information and action, go to the Public Interest Research Group: