Dear iPhone, Who's Your Daddy?

Suit jackets are hot in May.  I tossed mine over the back of a chair.  We were grabbing a quick lunch in the Capitol building.  It was the middle of a whirlwind day of meetings with our NY state legislators.  I sat next to Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the digital right to repair coalition.   She was talking to Bruce Geiger--who taught me that day what incredible work it takes for lobbyists to turn 'what a great idea' into actual law.  Louis Rossmann, legend of MacBook repair, pokes at his uber-healthy vegetarian dish in the next chair. 

"Well, I think it ends at the cash register.  The umbilical cord is cut when I swipe my card."  Gay comments.

And this tiny statement, I think sums up the entire issue with our right to repair our devices.  
Let me explain.

Manufacturers, the OEMS, like Apple and Oracle don't want us to repair our devices, that is clear.  It is easy to think of the ugly reasons why not---"so that you have to buy another one, duh!" tops the list.  Mega-corporations that, unbridled, are able to hoard all the parts, documentation, and information in house so that they can monopolize the repair market for their own devices, keep prices high, options low and take a shit on the world via an endless, chokingly thick, stream of toxic e-waste dumped on some pristine area of green somewhere that's not my backyard.

But I'm sure the folks putting on hot suit jackets and going to work in Cupertino board rooms will toss theirs over the backs of chairs and watch the T-ball game with a smile later today.  I can imagine that tonight, some electrical engineer will close his eyes and struggle to clear the visions of circuits and equations that pop into his mind as he tries to sleep.

 What it is like for those guys to watch me gutting an iPhone on my dining room table?  I show the world how I can use a soldering iron to sear a patch over broken traces in the circuit board.   My friend Louis has in his bag a MacBook motherboard that has already had its last rites pronounced at the Genius bar a few days ago.  It it working just fine now with his 17 cent wire connecting the break in the line that was eaten by a few molecules of orange juice.

Does the Apple design engineer cringe at my video and want to come rip his baby from under my microscope.  "That's not how we do it!"  and storm off with an angry stare to give his creation a proper burial.  Does the paranoid attorney envision headlines "Apple MacBook burns down orphanage killing hundreds" while wringing his hands as he stares at the motherboard with its 17 cent wire?

That's what it comes down to, isn't it?  Parenting.   In my former life as a stay at home mom, the playground talk is all about juggling choices and judgement.   The breastfeeders look down on the bottlefeeders.  The disposable diaper moms think the cloth diaper moms are a little nutty.  I'm pretty sure that Billy bit Tommy on the swings because his mom lets him have apple juice more than twice a day, or maybe it was because of the circumcision--how barbaric!  And did you hear, Amy is letting Skylar cry it out---oh I just couldn't, could you?  

And at the end of the day, all these parents are trying to do their best.  They all want the same thing--for their children to be happy and healthy.  They each have freedom of choice to make their own decisions on what is "best" for their kids.  We are all individuals.  We all have different strengths.  I don't think any of us could stand to watch someone else raise our child for very long.

It is easy for the OEMs, the original parents of our consumer electronics, to fail to be able to hand over their babies to us end users.  As devices become more complex, it is easy to really think that just because something isn't economically feasible to repair on a large scale, that it is truly unrepairable.  It makes sense to balk at the idea of someone modding or reworking your delicate creation.  You can put on a proud papa T-shirt and think that to withhold parts and information that you are protecting us from ourselves.

The problem, though, is that this is bullshit.  And insulting.

When does the 'parentage' of the device end?  When is it transferred to the owner?   I have to agree with Gay Gordon Byrne.  "Well, I think it ends at the cash register.  The umbilical cord is cut when I swipe my card."

When we buy a device, we own it.  As adults, we are entitled to open it up, take it apart, crush it with a hammer, fix traces with a soldering iron, or run a 17 cent wire up the middle.   We are the parents now.  The adoption was finalized when the cash left my bank account and went into yours.   As such, we have every right to repair it as we see fit.  Now I'm the angry mother, staring at you OEMs.  You don't have the right to tell me what I can and can't do with my child! 

A few months ago I stood in line at the Apple Store for my iPhone 6.  I told the Apple Store employee that I couldn't wait to go home and take it apart.  His jaw hit the floor.  "But why?  Why on Earth would you do that?!"   Because I can.  Because I want to see what's inside it.  Because I don't think a hunk of wires in aluminum has some amazing secret magic that is released the moment I lift the screen assembly.   The idea that the representative of the OEM was unable to wrap his mind around electing to even look under the hood of the device---this is problem.  We are losing our culture of repair.

Americans have been inventing and innovating for centuries.  We have prided ourselves on device longevity, superior craftsmanship.  Opening the dishwasher front panel would inevitably reveal a tiny folded paper showing you, or your local repairman the wiring diagram.  Replacement parts were available, of course, just send away for them.  Your trusty Phillips head in your pocket could open anything.  Repair was a noble profession.  Every town had a "guy who knew how to fix everything."   Every father-son team bonded over the Saturday chore of fixing the lawnmower, the bike, or changing the oil in the car. Repair is our culture.

Then little by little that changed.  We stare into our separate phones on Saturday morning while someone else cuts the lawn.  We buy a new bike instead of fix the chain.  Who knows how to fix the car anymore, it is a computer on wheels.
Everything is cheap.  Everything is plastic.  Everything enjoys a 15 minute life between Walmart shelf to landfill.   We fix nothing.   We are losing our culture.   Our disposable generation children are growing up with no appreciation for things. They have been taught to constantly seek the newest, latest, greatest stuff and pitch the old broken stuff without a moments thought. 

How I loved watching these young girls.  From California, New York, Utah.  They each fixed a phone on their own.  They each called me later wanting to know how they could do more repair.  LOVE THIS.


We have the right to repair our things.  We have the right to same parts and information that these OEMs have in their own repair stream.  We have the right to not allow OEMs to monopolize the repair industry.  We have the right to decide what is, and what isn't repairable.  We have the right to have independent repair shops on every corner that give folks a place to go on Saturday and talk with the person fixing their device and learn a little something.  These consumer electronics are not black boxes of magic.  They are wires and legos.  They are repairable.  They deserve a second chance.   We have the right to make decisions on what happens to our devices.   We have the right to teach our children the great joy that comes from learning to take something broken and make it work again.

Did you know that most of what I'm doing here is illegal?  Yes.  All these thousands of devices that I've fixed, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that I've kept in the pockets of my customers, the tiny little finger in the dyke of the ewaste stream.  All illegal.

I'm not allowed to have these schematics that help me figure out how to save your baby pictures on your water damaged phone that Apple says you have to throw away.  These schematics that are just a map of a silicon city and in no way sufficient to build a device from scratch.  These schematics are just a google search away, and are disseminated instantly under the collective table of the world.   And do we see people making use of them to build replica iPhones and MacBooks that work and function like the originals?  No.  Because the schematics are just a map, not the secret sauce required to build the device and make it work.    So how about we put these schematics on top of the table and talk about them.  Let's help each other be able to do more repairs and save more devices.

I'm not allowed to have OEM parts from Apple.  They will not sell these parts to me.  They will not sell these parts to you.  In fact, when clever people from around the world build original quality parts on the same assembly lines and sell these third party parts to me----I'm not allowed to have them.   A colleague in repair this week was visited by the Department of Homeland Security after having a $3k order of screen seized by customs officials. 

Apple has patented the "3-D shape of the iPhone"  which means that any replacement screen at all, is in violation of copyright.  And I can understand---the variability in the third party parts market is astounding.  Some parts are truly original quality, while the stuff being peddled on eBay and Amazon are largely high copy flimsy stuff.   Don't we have the right to true OEM parts, just like our grandfathers did?   By both denying us OEM parts, AND attacking the flow of incoming original quality third party parts is the ultimate having your cake and eating it too.   

It is time to end the OEM monopoly on repair.

It is time to legitimize the independent repair shop.

It is time to fight for our right to repair, and our right to teach our children to repair.

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