The Right to Repair has been with us ever since humans created the first tool
For as long as anyone can remember, ownership came with the prerogative to do whatever you wish with the things you own. Your mule cart break down? You would be the one to find the right timber and make a new axle. Tear in your garment? You could find a tailor or pull out some thread. But when technology began to dominate our daily lives, that tried-and-true reality began to fade. And manufacturers have been laughing their way to the bank ever since.
The Right to do your own Thing
At its core, the Right to Repair (R2R) movement is a David and Goliath story. In the David corner is you — the user who paid for your electronic device — and in the other corner is Goliath, the manufacturer, who received their payment for the device they sold. However, that cash you put down was not enough to truly own your new device.
This shift was subtle; technology began to change so quickly that the practice of fixing a computer, phone, or tablet became less practical. About the time our current device would fail, the computing we needed (or that we are convinced we needed) required a new device anyway. Manufacturers, too, have had reasons to make repair a proprietary operation, as computing technology rapidly proliferated. With billions of dollars at stake, trade secrets and intellectual property protection efforts meant repair manuals were considered a liability.
The Right to remain Useless
As the tech boom often distilled to nothing more than a race for the most trivial upgrades, the pace has slowed enough for us consumers to stop and consider. When an issue like phone throttling from carriers were added to the mix, all-of-a-sudden, it happened:
We realized we weren’t the owners of our own devices anymore.
Proprietary glues, labyrinthian layouts, license agreements, and anti-tamper software meant the normal user couldn’t replace a battery or upgrade memory without rendering their device useless.
This goes beyond the design obsolescence we’ve all acquiesced to. Throttling phones and kill codes are direct manufacturer intervention. The bully on the playground is pushing you to buy a new device even though you could do a simple thing to make your current one last longer. And this bullying has been ratcheting up e-waste to epidemic levels.
Pushing for the Right to Repair is not a zealous fringe movement. Proposed forms of legislation simply demand that manufacturers stop their bullying and act like manufacturers again. They make the stuff, we buy it, we own it, and we can choose who repairs or reuses the stuff we buy. The definition of unsustainable is when truckloads of devices turn to tech trash only because a simple fix isn’t allowed. And when those devices full of precious metals and toxic substances end up in the landfill, our planet suffers because of manufacturer paranoia and greed.
The Right Thing is Possible
The arguments electronics manufacturers make to justify bullying are that the Right to Repair would undermine the value of the brand, the integrity of the device, or compromise its security and safety. But Apple (the main voice in this argument) is no longer creating the revolutionary Jobs-ian devices it once did, and repair is something owners want to do — regardless of alleged risks.
There are some manufacturers, however, who are recognizing their own dictatorship and want to stand down from that position. Microsoft recently relaxed their stance with at least one of their devices, and there are some manufacturers whose position has been defined by the R2R movement, such as Framework. Apple also has at least begun to feel the pressure and in November of 2021 announced its Self Service Repair Program.
We’ve moved into an age where users want to be able to use their devices longer — and that requires being able to periodically fix them. It’s not asking too much, it’s just asking for it to be a little more like it was in the beginning, when we truly owned the tools we used.