Imagine, for a moment, a world run by corporations, not governments. A world where everyone is born an employee who is looked after as a company asset and, consequently, where there is no food or fuel poverty, no homelessness. All materials are recycled where possible, to the point that using new materials is reserved for special products. One downside? It is illegal to repair anything yourself or, indeed, make anything yourself. No knitting, no quilting, no soldering, no ScrapHappy. This kind of activity is deemed anti-corporation and is punishable by “credit history expungement”.*
We aren’t at this level of part dystopian, part idyllic (possibly, depending on your point of view) society yet. So far, this is just the world my newest creation, Nathan Xylophone, finds himself in as he is transported to 2088 after a bit of an accident (new novel on its way soon, honest!) .
But how close are we to not being allowed to mend things ourselves?
A few weeks ago, we moved a little closer to such a scenario as Apple won a landmark case in Norway against a repairer, Henrik Huseby, who dared to offer screen repairs for iPhones. His crime? He used imported refurbished Apple screens. He never once said he was using genuine spare parts, because once a screen has been refurbished by a third party, it is no longer considered to be a genuine Apple part, although it basically is, of course. Apple had sued in 2018, claiming an infringement of trademark, a case they lost. So they came at Henrik from a different angle – the screens, imported into Norway they claimed, were illegal copies.
In Norway’s Supreme Court, they won, leaving Henrik with a huge legal bill (one that repairers and supporters of the right to repair movement have rallied to help pay) and the potential for any and every company to prevent what they would see as “unauthorised” repairs. Apple already make their products almost impossible to fix without returning them – now they appear to have a mandate (at least in Norway) to continue that policy.
So, what is the solution? Apple say they reclaim some of the materials from their products and encourage people to return them when they upgrade, but they also render iPhones that are more than 3 or 4 years old useless by making the software run grindingly slowly – they are less than keen on keeping existing tech running!
Perhaps an answer might be to make it law that things have to be repaired at the manufacturers expense thus making the economics shift from throwaway to keep-forever. Or maybe, make things that are completely open source, and allow anyone to fix anything? What do you think? Should something that can be repaired have to be repaired?
As I write this (30/06/2020), apparently the Federal Congress of Mexico have approved the criminalisation of the right to repair or modify the hardware and software of devices, with penalties including ten years in jail. I haven’t found this on a newsfeed, just Twitter, so I can’t verify it – perhaps someone out there can?
Maybe Nathan Xylophone shouldn’t be too surprised what he finds in 2088!
* “I see this is not today’s software. Isn’t that treason or espionage or something?”
Although he did not look up from his work, Nathan could tell Jay Gee was grimacing, just a little. “Technically, it is both, with both punishable by removal of credit rating. Credit History Expungement, it’s called.”
“Sounds nasty. Can you get ointment for it?”
“After the expungement, no. You can’t get anything. You can’t buy, rent or indeed use anything that is less than two years old.”
“Wow, that’s harsh! Actually, what?”
“In this time, two years old is ancient history.”
“Even food? I mean, can you get food if you been ex, er, sponged then? Can you eat sponge cake?”
“You get the ‘C’ treatment. Charity. Worst thing a consumer can ask for. And you have to ask for it to. That or starve. Most choose the latter although we haven’t had any expungements for nearly five years, so recently people have been very good consumers indeed.”
“So, are you going to expunge yourself then, or in this joyless society, is that illegal too?”
“Ha ha. Joyless? We have none of the plagues that were raging across the planet in the twenty twenties, Nathan, not one of them. Poverty is all but gone, replaced by that most useless of things, fashion. But fashion that everyone has access to and can buy into. And everyone can buy into it…”
“Unless they’ve been expunged, of course.”
“Of course. But then, that’s their fault, isn’t it? With a great credit history comes great consumer responsibility.”