Replace vs Repair: The Battle for Planet Earth

In a world where replace is the norm, repair is going the way of the dinosaurs

Feb 5, 2016, India

I often get carried away by my fascination with tech, only to be brought down to earth by an unexpected reality check.

Like when my 3 year old washing machine got stuck in the rinse mode. Seems that its digital dial which sets the wash program, had failed. As the model was no longer in production, I couldn’t get a replacement for the electronic dial. So I had to junk the otherwise perfectly working machine.

That hurts my pocket. What’s worse, it adds to the electronic waste that is overwhelming our environment. That’s a pity as it’s completely unnecessary. If governments enforce environment-friendly laws that push manufacturers to provide parts for longer periods, then such profit-only approaches would be reduced. And this wasn’t the first time I’ve faced such hi-tech blues.

  • The LCD dial on my mother’s treadmill has gradually became unreadable though the treadmill itself is working fine.
  • My iPhone’s display went off though the phone was still working
  • Our electronic thermometer would switch on, but its dial stayed frozen
  • The dial on my cordless phone started glitching
  • My Magic Mouse stopped scrolling vertically
  • My Magic Trackpad’s tap-to-click function stopped working

As the disasters piled up, a pattern began to emerge. Electronic parts did not seem to have as long a life as the mechanical parts. This could either mean the electronic parts were more delicate. Or the manufacturers were cutting corners on electronic components by using cheap Chinese parts. Or both.

My conclusion was to check if a device offers a low-tech mechanical option. They’re always a safer bet, being usually more sturdy and durable than delicate hi-tech electronic parts. Of course, I won’t get the convenience or features of the electronic version but at least, I’m doing my bit to save the environment by reducing electronic garbage. So that’s what I did.

  • My mother got rid of the treadmill. She anyway prefers walking outdoors which is not really a big deal in India, unless it starts pouring
  • We have gone back to an old-style glass thermometer
  • I got a cordless phone without a dial, and it’s been going strong for a couple of years now
  • The Magic Mouse was retired, but I continued using the Magic Trackpad with the mechanical press-to-click instead of the electronic tap-to-click
  • We recently picked up an induction cooker, but only after making sure that it had a mechanical dial
  • I found a new washing machine with a sturdy mechanical knob that will probably outlast the washing machine.

As for my iPhone, Apple didn’t give me an option to repair it but offered to exchange it for a refurbished model (at a price that didn’t make sense for an outdated model). That’s a sign of our times where the norm is to discard and add to environmental junk, rather than repair and save our planet.

Apple has always worshipped at the altar of Profit. I wish they wouldn’t, because I love their products. Think about it. If Apple gave priority to repair and recycle over profits, it would be a resounding statement from a market leader, and lay down the standard for the industry. That would be a legacy for which Apple would be known for generations.

But till the day that happens, I’ll go my low-tech way to beat the hi-tech garbage.

it’s an odd world

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