A funny thing happened on the way to Congress yesterday. For once, lawmakers introduced a common-sense bill — the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013.
If passed, the bill would give Americans freedom to do what they need — unlock, repair, maintain, modify — with the devices they own, whether cellphone or car. “Own” being the operative word, because, as I’ve argued here before, it’s no longer obvious who owns our stuff when we live in an age where physical objects are also digital and require access to information (such as service manuals).
With such a common-sense bill, you might assume that Congress will make a rational decision to guarantee our rights — especially when introduced by a bipartisan coalition of representatives: Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO).
But don’t kid yourself: this is an uphill battle.
Technology advocates don’t have a great record of legislative wins compared to the deep-pocketed carriers and content lobbyists who are masters of playing the long game. The most likely course of action is a stopgap solution — like a Leahy bill that scores political points but fails to solve anything — so it’s important that we voice our support, now. Read the rest of this article »
Yellowed kitchen appliances, dust-streaked radios, unresponsive DVD players: the table was strewn with stuff that even a local thrift store’s discounts couldn’t make enticing. Most of the electronics were broken and all of them had outlived their usefulness. But you wouldn’t have known it by the number of children—screwdrivers in hand—who crowded the table that day just to get a look inside of them.
The demographic at the last USA Science and Engineering Festival was a little different from the one I usually cater to at iFixit—a free online repair manual for everything from cracked iPhones to DIY oil changes. My company’s mission is to teach as many people as possible how to fix the stuff they own—kids included.
And kids were just as eager to learn as we were to teach them. The festival warehouse was crowded and noisy, but once they pried up the hood of a device, the world faded to mute as pint-sized tech magellans explored circuit boards and examined old motors. One middle-schooler spent two hours working on an old VCR. Time well spent, because he got to watch the old relic whir back to life—a mixture of surprise and elation on his face.
Kids are born tinkerers. They have the natural inquisitiveness of engineers. All they need is someone to put an iPod in one hand, a screwdriver in the other, and ask, “Do you want to take this apart?” And when I ask that question, their eyes go wide with astonishment. After all, their parents have been telling them not to take things apart their entire lives. Read the rest of this article »
The Gaia Foundation released a new report yesterday on electronics and the environment. The report, Short Circuit, was funded by the European Union—a sign that governments are increasingly aware of the environmental ramifications stemming from electronics manufacturing.
First the good news: 90% of the world’s population and 80% of the population living in rural areas currently have access to mobile technology—including half of the population of Africa. These devices are responsible for the huge growth of mobile commerce, governance, and banking in Africa.
Unfortunately, as a global community, we’re pretty bad at managing gadgets. Here’s your mind-blowing tech prediction of the day: By the end of this year, the total number of electronic devices in the world will surpass the number of people on it, The Foundation asserts. Read the rest of this article »
Do Mother Nature a big favor today: don’t recycle your broken electronics.
We all grew up with the old mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—your checklist for sustainable living. But recycling is the final item on that list for a reason. When it comes to electronics, recycling should be the last option. Not the first.
Last year, 1.75 billion phones were sold to consumers around the world. By the end of 2013, another 240 million tablets and 207 million PCs will be produced and shipped globally. Seamless plastic and sleek aluminum covers belie the messy origins of our favorite gizmos.
The laptop on your desk, the cell phone in your back pocket, and the tablet on your nightstand all house within them materials wrested from a reluctant earth—things like cobalt, cadmium, nickel, lead, copper, and gold. A single cell phone, for example, is composed of between 500 to 1,000 different components—some sourced from countries that aren’t particularly well-known for safe mining practices, human rights, or environmental standards.
As the demand for gadgets increases, so do raw material extraction rates. In the last 10 years, iron ore production has increased by 180%, cobalt by 165%, and lithium by 125%. Every year, mining operations have to go deeper into the earth, producing more waste for less raw materials. Copper ore deposits, for example, are only one-tenth the purity of the ore mined 100 years ago. Mining and producing just an ounce of gold creates approximately 80 tons of waste.
No matter what manufacturers try to tell you, there is no such thing as a green electronic. Read the rest of this article »
Picture it: you need to buy a new remote control. You cruise to the store to pick up a new remote and some extra AA batteries—they run out, after all. Best be prepared. You take the remote home, open the package, and—wait a minute! This isn’t your mom’s remote control. It’s a super slick gadget that appears to be glued together for an über modern look. Great!
But there’s a downside to seamlessness. You can’t replace the battery yourself. There are no instructions provided on how to get into the remote, and it’s nearly impossible to tear apart. That means once those encased AA batteries run out, you’ll probably have to buy a new remote control. And the cycle repeats. Forever.
Sound appealing? It runs counter to commonsense to own a battery-run device that doesn’t allow you to replace the batteries quickly and easily. There’s a reason that people own gadgets like alarm clocks, remotes, and watches for years and years: they can switch out the batteries themselves.
There’s no such thing as a sealed remote control yet, but it’s closer to reality than you might think. Every day, we settle for expensive electronics—cell phones, tablets, computers—with batteries that can’t be removed and replaced. These products might look great, but when it comes to batteries, recycling, and reuse, there are some big problems. Read the rest of this article »
What’s the oldest piece of technology that you own? That’s the question radio host Nora Young asked listeners on the CBC program Spark. Cue the nostalgia: callers waxed poetic about everything from 10-year-old MP3 players to ancient, reliable typewriters.
The theme of the show was mindful gadget consumerism. It’s no secret that upgrade cycles for nifty electronics have gotten quicker: the allure of newer, faster, and shinier is hard to resist, especially if you love electronics. But, Young asks, if we really love our gadgets, why are we in such a rush to get rid of them?
To that end, Young spoke with a handful of electronic experts who get tech, keep tech, love tech, and fix tech. The roster included Anil Dash, whose website, Last Year’s Model, celebrates keeping old(er) gadgets instead of buying new ones; Gina Trapani, creator of LifeHacker; discerning gadget reviewer Brian Lam of The Wire Cutter; Ian Urbina of The New York Times and author of a recent exposé about the state of CRT recycling; and our very own CEO Kyle Wiens, who talks gadget design and repairability.
Check out the full show in podcast form. And we put the same question to you: What’s the oldest gadget you refuse to get rid of?