Triumphing together against planned obsolescence
I am not a technical person.
It may seem strange, being one of the founders of this project, but perhaps that is always what makes me good for this. The technical stuff not only frustrates me – it also really intimidates me, just like most people.
When I first saw The Lightbulb Conspiracy, a documentary about planned obsolescence, I would have never imagined myself battling against one of the featured tricks of printer manufacturers – Epson’s dreaded internal counter/chip. It is an emblem of planned obsolescence, much like the first iPod, where Apple made it impossible to change the battery.
This Saturday, in Willesden Green, a frustrated participant to one of our Restart Parties brought her Epson Stylus D68. She said it died suddenly with no warning and two lights just blinked red and she could no longer print. She had just replaced both ink cartridges.
I did some Googling about her problem and quickly came across a number of people complaining about the dreaded “kill chip”.
Epson claims that this internal counter is there to prevent its printers from spilling ink everywhere, that it is set to stop printing forever about the time the bottom of the printer would be flooded from excessive ink. It does this by simply spontaneously stopping printing after a certain number of print outs have been made. The printer owner is suddenly and inexplicably left with blinking red lights.
We were pretty sure that the printer was not overflowing with excess ink. And it wasn’t – we opened up the back to check the ink pads on the bottom, and they were brilliant white. (In any case, a consumer should have the choice to clean out the printer and deal with the excess ink.)
This situation is pretty hard to accept. It is one thing to make something not meant to last or hard to fix. It is quite another to manufacture something to fail by design.
Luckily, I also learned in The Light Bulb Conspiracy that a Russian programmer created a piece of freeware utility that would simply talk to the printer and reset the counter.
We downloaded the utility, followed some simple instructions – simply go to a menu and select “reset counter”, and as if we had waved a magic wand, the Epson came back to life. A simple piece of software helped us trick the printer into a new, and fairer, longer life.
It was a very good feeling. Some could hardly believe it was that easy – me included.
Three cheers for SCC in Russia! Boo to Epson and planned obsolescence!
The best way to fight back is together, so next time you suspect something may have been designed to fail, why not bring it to a Restart Party?