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?
Hot on the heels of last week’s BlackBerry Z10 teardown, the HTC One landed in our hands and was quickly deemed teardown-worthy. So we cleared the operating table, sharpened our spudgers… and that’s where the excitement stopped. As soon as we had it out of the box, our opening skills were put to the test. And we don’t like to be tested. We speedily dislodged the screen from its aluminum shell, but things didn’t look so rosy from there on out.
It turns out that the HTC One’s guts are glued into the machined aluminum casing. So if you want to replace anything inside, *at best* you’ll just disfigure the perimeter of the device. Even worse, you may inadvertently mangle a speaker or cable during the opening process.
A lot of people tell us that there’s no such thing as repairable tech these days. Well, we’ve got two bombshells for you: BlackBerry’s back, and it’s super repairable.
We heard that BlackBerry loyalists were hesitant to make the leap to a buttonless smartphone with a drastically shorter battery life. But with an ultra-responsive touchscreen and easily swappable battery, the Z10 will play Angry Birds all the way to Taiwan, and still bust an E.T. and phone home.
Despite its poor reception among critics, the BlackBerry Z10 is proof that smartphones can be thin, easily-repairable, and have replaceable batteries. All these traits yield an 8 out of 10 repairability score, something we haven’t seen in a smartphone for a while. Read the rest of this article »
We’ve said it before: repair teaches engineering. During a recent trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., I was reminded just how much when I saw the Wright Flyer III: one of the greatest innovations ever born out of repair.
Considered the first airplane, the Wright Flyer III—built by Orville and Wilbur Wright—was a huge step towards modern flight (which seemed especially relevant as I was cruising back from D.C. at 36,000 feet). Of course, the Wright brothers were not the only ones to tackle early aeronautics, but their innovative techniques in engineering—including the Flyer III and first wind tunnel—came from their hands-on experience in repair.
Before becoming famous, the Wright brothers made their livings by manufacturing and repairing bicycles—pretty good business during the bicycle boom at the turn of the century. The revenue from their handiwork funded their experiments and the building of the Flyer. Read the rest of this article »
In a 6-3 decision on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld your right to resell your own stuff.
The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, related to Supap Kirtsaeng, a student at Cornell University who bought cheap, lawfully made textbooks in Thailand, mailed them to the United States, and sold them to U.S. students via eBay. Publishing company John Wiley & Sons sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement. Kirtsaeng argued that his actions were protected under the first-sale doctrine: he purchased the books legally, so he should be able to sell them however he wanted. John Wiley & Sons argued that first-sale only applies to products made in the United States, not to products made abroad and imported into the States.
SCOTUS disagreed. And that’s good, because while the case concerned textbooks, it could have had far-reaching implications on the legality of re-selling any product made overseas…which is pretty much everything.
Over $2.3 trillion dollars worth of foreign goods were imported in 2011 alone, SCOTUS reported. These days, everything—from cars to computers to cell phones—contains copyrighted materials. A ruling in favor of John Wiley & Sons could have made selling your iPhone on eBay or your Toyota on Craigslist illegal—a fact that influenced the court’s decision.
“A geographical interpretation would prevent the resale of, say, a car, without the permission of the holder of each copyright on each piece of copyrighted automobile software,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer. “[. . .]Without that permission a foreign car owner could not sell his or her used car.”
It is unclear what, if any, effect SCOTUS’s decision might have on the ongoing intellectual property debate in consumer electronics. Copyright claims over the intellectual property in electronics have been used in the past by manufacturers to limit activities like jailbreaking and cell phone unlocking. Perhaps this decision will open the door to meaningful copyright reform in Congress.
While Congress is working on legislation to re-legalize cellphone unlocking, let’s acknowledge the real issue: The copyright laws that made unlocking illegal in the first place. Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed.
We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.
The issue goes beyond cellphone unlocking, because once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it … without asking for permission from the manufacturer.
But we really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Microwave ovens are a combination of plastic and microcode. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.
This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small business owners — into criminals. Fortune 500 telecom manufacturer Avaya, for example, is known for suing service companies, accusing them of violating copyright for simply using a password to log in to their phone systems. That’s right: typing in a password is considered “reproducing copyrighted material.” Read the rest of this article »