The ILN has recently discussed technological obsolescence and how this ties in with digital preservation. Another vein of this discussion is that of planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is where companies build-in a limited lifespan for their products. There is an excellent documentary on this topic called ‘The Light-bulb Conspiracy‘. While this documentary looks at many products, the light-bulb conspiracy is that a group of companies deliberately created a weak filament that burns out after only a fraction of the hours that a light-bulb can truly last. Evidence – there is a light-bulb that has been burning for 115 years! This is because they can sell more product, and make more money. The BBC has written a great article on this topic.
Printers, smartphones, laptops, MP3 music players (the list is actually VERY long) are all culprits. You can’t remove the batteries to replace them when they die, and they are built to die within a short time. Screens are made of weak glass, screws are ‘tamper-proof’ so you can’t fix parts, chips inside the technology tell it when to simply stop functioning. Apple is particularly guilty of this tactic, and has been sued multiple times for planned obsolescence in its products.
Of course, there are the ethical issues of forcing customers to buy new products, but it is also an environmental issue. All of this junk is going to landfill rather than being repaired. This ‘throw-away culture’ needs to change. And so in response to this, there is now something called ‘The Repair Movement’. It was originally started by farmers who have been greatly affected by being unable to repair their farm equipment (read more about this on Motherboard). In the US and EU, there has been a push to change the law to provide consumers with the ‘right to repair‘. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit iFixit, a repair site advocating for these rights.
So how do libraries fit into this picture? Being that libraries are community organisations looking to advocate for progressive change and ‘doing what is ethically right’ in the world, we have an obligation to help our communities to fix their things! Maker-spaces are places for people to build and create, so they could also be places for people to repair. We can provide a space for the community to learn and share their repair skills: “Bring in your broken thing and lets tinker”. There are already ‘Repair Cafes‘ so why not repair in libraries too? We can also lend out tools that people need to make it easier to fix their things.
Think of all the many things you have had to throw away and buy anew, when you could have simply fixed one little piece to make it work again. Not only is this movement saving the environment, there is a real feeling of satisfaction being able to learn new skills and repair your beloved things.
– Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer.