Disposable Tech Isn't a Bad Idea

Disposable Tech Isn't a Bad Idea
Photo by Önder Örtel / Unsplash

I consider myself to be somewhat of a tech junkie. I find it an enjoyable and mostly harmless hobby. I mean, there could be more expensive habits I could be addicted to, right?

You see, everyone loves getting new tech. Not being a psychologist, I can’t tell you exactly what part of our brain it seems to hit, but something about being the first to touch new tech seems to give me a real, tangible high. I can’t be far off from this idea. Apple hires engineers and scientists dedicated to make this unboxing experience unforgettable (and I must add that they definitely hit their mark).

If I had to guess, I’d say this feeling exists to serve a purpose more than just giving us a little rush every time we pull that cellophane tab. I think its to minimize the pang we feel when we give up our old devices. Engrained in our DNA seems to be this idea to make things continue on forever. For most people, loss is not something we deal with effectively, and getting rid of a device, however small, hurts in some way. However, corporate interests aside, I still think its for the best.

Apple has seemingly been attempting to kill a rising group of individuals dedicated to demanding repair for older devices. This “Right to Repair Movement” seems to be stemming as a coalition between those that simply liked the older and more innovative designs of the past, people who are concerned about the environmental impact of tech, and those who don’t want to fall victim to corporate greed.

While apple is probably the best example of a company dead set against right to repair, this battle is quietly taking place in every tech company across the industry. Devices that seem to be easy to repair are disappearing in place of more disposable counterparts.

Though I may agree that it seems to be the ‘nuclear’ option to dispose of an entire device instead of repairing an even small issue, I think that the right to repair movement needs to change its objective (and also its name). Let me try to explain what I mean.

First, my AppleTV decided to literally give up the ghost. I awoke one morning to the little black box not responding to any input or showing any indications of power flowing through it. Realizing that three years for a piece of Apple Tech is practically an eternity, I (slightly begrudgingly) headed to the Apple Store for a new one. Apart from the inconvenience of parking, navigating the mall, and waiting for a sales rep, it was a relatively smooth transition. I went from dead box to media heaven in less than an hour. (As an avid iPhone and mac user, I’m a really big fan of the AppleTV)

Unfortunately, my WD MyBook got jealous of the AppleTV’s early retirement and decided to follow suit. Thankfully, the drives were intact (always RAID your data, kids!) and I was able to slot them into a newer model-year version of the same device. Despite that period of time where WD literally shut off access to its devices because it couldn’t find a solution, I think it’s still the best NAS on the market.

Satisfying my rule of threes and calming my ever-growing nerves, our home stereo system decided it would also partake in riding off into the sunset.

However, there’s one device in my childhood home that has lived to see it all. My printer continues to defy all odds and remain the singular device to outlast every single piece of consumer-level tech I have ever owned. According to internet rumor-mills, the printer was discontinued shortly after it was released, as the engineers had just realized once every household in America owned one, they’d be out of a job. 12 years later, and it continues to roll off tens to hundreds of sheets for my family on a daily basis.

I should add as a caveat here that this is by no means a multifunction device. The scanner function no longer really works (however the fax does, incase 1990s Baron ever needs to contact me), and its a black-and white only machine. But at 19 pages-per-minute, it does its primary purpose exceptionally: prints.

I think this printer is the perfect example of what goes wrong when you leave planned obsolescence out of the picture. Let me give you a few examples.

How we use technology is changing

This is a USB only printer. When we were a single computer home (as most 2006 families were), this really wasn’t an issue. When I finally got my own computer shortly after, XP-era printer sharing did the trick. However, as time has gone on, I’ve had to continue to rework a myriad of solutions to keep this printer accessible.

We started by buying and using a small windows device solely for the purpose of keeping it on the workgroup. However, the addition of a few apple devices to our network started to give me headaches. We then bought an Apple Time Capsule (remember them?) and managed to use the windows-compatible Bonjour Print Services to host the printer (though iTunes was required to be installed on those PCs taking up a few GB of precious space). Unfortunately, bonjour seems to have finally died in Win10. So, I tried a few print servers from the internet that all seemed to bottleneck the print speed, which to me made no sense. I ended up reverse engineering the bonjour settings, taking note of the ports and addresses that were open on the time capsule, and that seems to have things working for now (By the way, anyone know why they switched to 9101 from 9100? To screw with me? Because it worked).

I know this is a small first-world problem but I think it proves a big point. The cost and inconvenience associated with keeping a device functioning and compatible with modern technologies is a burden that no one wants. Instead of appealing to your common sense, companies are simply trying to blind you to this reality with the hit of opening a new device. I agree with the idea that Apple (and other companies) deserve the right to refuse repair of your device simply because it is not cost-effective for them to do so. The purchase and use of these devices is equivalent to signing a contract giving them permission to do this.

The idea behind trying to repair old tech and keep it working seems to be at an impasse. I think those behind this movement don’t really understand the burden they are demanding these companies undertake. However, the easiest way to end this argument is not to stop the demands, but to start asking different questions. For example:

  1. Recyclability: how environmentally friendly is disposing of this device, and can we reuse product so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill?
  2. Cost: Instead of asking companies to save us money by repairing our soon obsolete devices, why aren’t we looking at incentives for returning or replacing new devices?
  3. Design: We vote with our dollar. How are the products we are purchasing showing companies where to take the design of tech?

Instead of screaming at a tech company to make a change, let’s lead them there.