The Right to Repair: Fighting Planned Obsolescence

Published: Sep 6, 2023

“They don’t make stuff like they used to.”

We’ve all heard some form of this claim at some point and, unfortunately, it’s true. What’s concerning is that the decline of product quality and longevity we’ve seen in recent decades is fully intentional.

My family and I like to collect antiques and vintage goods we find at estate sales and shops on the weekends. Recently, this had me thinking: the items we find are noticeably sturdier and of a higher quality than anything you’d find on shelves today. From time to time we’ll even find vintage electronics or machines that still work like they did when they were new (or close to it)!

Many devices today are only good for a few years before they start slowing down dramatically, exhibiting battery life issues, physically breaking due to poor craftsmanship, and so on. To make things worse, the average consumer can’t even get into many of today’s devices to replace a battery or other parts. Myriad examples of these types of situations exist today.

Let’s talk about it.

What is planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence is the practice of designing products with a limited lifespan, so that they become obsolete and need to be replaced sooner rather than later. This is done in a variety of ways, such as cheapening materials, making products difficult to repair, intentionally reducing updates that slow down or disable older devices, or removing support for older devices altogether.

What is Right to Repair?

The Right to Repair is simply the principle that consumers should have the right to repair their own devices. This would include the right to repair information, spare parts, and tools necessary to accomplish successful repairs without needing to go back and pay for manufacturer’s service or replacing the product outright.

Obviously, this is not appropriate in all products for practal reasons. The Planned Obsolescence/Right to Repair conversation is primarily centered around the tech industry and its output.

Still, I would argue that we as consumers should have the option to repair most anything we own, if we so wish.

Why does it matter?

This principle is important for several reasons.

  1. Having the Right to Repair helps to extend the lifespan of products, which can save consumers like you and me more money.

  2. Repairing instead of replacing reduces waste and stimulates circular economic activity, which is great for the environment. When products are repaired, they are less likely to end up in landfills (currently a major source of pollution).

  3. Consumers get more control over their devices and are less reliant upon manufacturers.

  4. More jobs would be created in the repair industry.

How can companies transition?

While it will likely take legislative action to cause any significant change to these practices, here is a potential path for companies wanting to create more repairable products:

What can we do about it?

The right to repair is a growing movement. Canada, members of the E.U., and a number of states in the U.S. have passed Right to Repair laws, and other countries are considering similar laws as an instrument of consumer and environmental protection. As the Right to Repair movement continues to gain momentum, the hope is that more tech companies will start designing products that are more repairable.

If you are interested in learning more about the Right to Repair, there are a number of resources available online. You can also contact your local elected officials and ask them to support Right to Repair legislation.

If you’d like to discuss more about this issue, use the button below to email me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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