Remember the good ol’ days of shade tree mechanics, denim patches and Emmett’s Fix-It Shop on “Mayberry R.F.D.”?
The growing complexity and fragility of high-tech consumer products (smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, microwave ovens, tractors, etc.) has threatened such a thrifty lifestyle; but some activists claim that even more damage has been done by the high-pressure tactics of the “either ship it to us for repair or just toss it in the landfill and buy a new one” manufacturers of those items.
These companies are not above issuing cease-and-desist orders when an intrepid tinkerer reverse-engineers a product and posts repair tips online, or even remotely shutting down a product that contains unauthorized replacement parts.
It’s a wonder that even more companies haven’t jumped aboard the greed train. I could just see the Ketchup Police kicking the front door open and catching penny-pinching miscreants with a nearly empty ketchup bottle turned upside down. (“Yeah, I’m a Ketchup Policeman. My parents met when Mom was rounding up hooligans who put aluminum foil on their rabbit-ear antennas, and Dad was cuffing scofflaws who used pliers to change channels.”)
Six years ago, a group of concerned consumers, recyclers, refurbishers, environmentalists, digital-rights advocates and repair specialists joined forces to found Repair.org, a group working to ensure that when something breaks, consumers can readily find the information and parts they need to repair it, or else have it fixed by a repairman of their choice.
Things used to be built to last. After Granny Tyree’s wringer washer gave up the ghost, the tub served for years as a livestock feed storage container. Now it seems we’re trapped in a community theater production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” (“Anything you can build, I can build crappier. I can build anything crappier than you...”)
It gets really embarrassing when a reporter doing a story about a local citizen’s restored ‘57 Chevy has to haul out his 14th digital camera to document the accomplishment.
I understand how corporations can get all clingy about their “proprietary information.” I mean, I do affix a copyright notice to these columns. But I am resigned to the fact that editors can completely change my headlines, force my freewheeling punctuation to adhere more to the “Associated Press Style Book” and truncate my contact information. Readers are entitled to take my words out of context, cross out paragraphs they disagree with or line the birdcage with my prose.
And my 401(k) account probably has stock in such companies, but even a capitalist can implore fat cats to rein it in a little. Give enough ammo to the socialists and Uncle Sam will nationalize Hewlett-Packard, guaranteeing unlimited ink cartridges for Printers That Don’t Want To Work.
I know manufacturers fear lawsuits if amateurs fiddle with repairs and make matters worse, but probably the computer with the judge’s ruling would crash and lose it, anyway.(“Never send a five-year-old to do a six-year-old’s assembly job!”)
By the end of 2018, legislatures in 18 states were considering “right to repair” laws. But an even bigger impact could come from Divine Intervention.
Imagine if God visited a few ailing executives and held them to their own standards.
“Knee replacement? I don’t recall authorizing a knee replacement. And were you born with stents? How about I unleash a plague of genuine, brand-name locusts on your market valuation?”