No More Mr. Fix-It
In our disposable culture, repair shops are a thing of the past.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: June 26th, 2012
elieve it or not, there was a time not too very long ago, when people used to take broken things to a repairman to get them fixed. That’s right, in your parents’ time, or maybe your grandparents’ time, if your TV, your toaster, your computer, your VCR, or your radio stopped working, your first thought wasn’t, “I need a new one,” but “I need to take this to the repairman.” But now that most products are literally designed to be unfixable, repair shops are going the way of the Dodo.
The concept of “planned obsolescence” has been around in industrial design since the 1930s, but the concept has only become the rule rather than the exception in the last decade or so.
A quick online search turns up dozens of headlines from various local papers saying things like “Old Electronics Repair Store Closing,” or “Electronics Repair Shop To Close After Long, Long Run.” Because now when your DVD player quits or your laptop battery stops holding a charge, you go buy a replacement. The death of an electronic device is merely the perfect excuse for an upgrade.
This didn’t happen by accident of course. The concept of “planned obsolescence” has been around in industrial design since the 1930s, but the concept has only become the rule rather than the exception in the last decade or so. A user on boingboing described a typical experience with trying to get something repaired in the post-fix-it age.
A couple of years ago I was trying to figure out how to fix an old stand-up floor lamp. For fun, I looked up one of the patent numbers and was surprised to learn that its irrepairability was the subject of the patent! The thing was designed not to be field-disassemblable. I looked around a bit more, and found that that "feature" was a common subject of patents.
In reaction to this, a Dutch design firm called Platform 21 issued a “Repair Manifesto” that challenges designers to reverse this trend. Among its 11 points are such radical ideas as “Make your products live longer,” “Things should be designed so that they can be repaired,” and “Repairing is about independence.”
Sadly, there’s little motivation for companies to heed these concepts, since planned obsolescence has proven to be so profitable. Of course, there is the environment to consider. Used electronics are difficult to dispose of, since they can contain such eco-unfriendly elements as lead, mercury, or cadmium. Seventeen States have banned electronic waste from their landfills, and as the use of smartphones, tablets, and laptops continues to grow, this problem shows no sign of going away.
You can read the full text of Platform 21’s manifesto here.