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Smarter Phones or Smarter Citizens?

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Volunteers from The Restart Project take apart a Fairphone prototype to learn about its design and repairability

It looks like it’s business as usual for mobile manufacturers, providers and “enthusiasts”. In the past few days, we have once again witnessed a typical set of events: first of all, new versions of an iconic smartphone get unveiled, followed by an extraordinary round of hype and media attention – like there is no tomorrow, and not other news to write or blog about.

In the meantime, more mobile providers around the world launch new fancy contracts, designed to allow customers to change their mobile as often as they want, so that when they get tired of the latest and the greatest, they can move on and find (temporary) relief in a new gadget.

Unsurprisingly, and yet unsettlingly, we are then shown one more time videos of customers queueing for hours, for days, to be the first to touch and buy the latest smartphone.

However, there is also another world out there, and we are happy to report it is growing steadily: more and more people are getting increasingly frustrated with the throwaway culture endlessly marketed to them.

For example, they cheerfully queue at the community repair events we and others host, excited to learn more about how to repair their gadgets as well as to understand why the design of their products is the main reason beyond their limited durability.

At the same time, a growing movement supports innovative projects such as Fairphone, promoting a more transparent approach to creating a phone – as well as promising the official procurement and distribution of most spare parts.

And an impressive 14 million people has watched and shared the Phonebloks video illustrating the concept for a modular, upgradeable smartphone.

Our message and reminder remain the same: the greenest mobile phone is the one already in our pocket, and it’s crucial that we take action as citizens (as opposed to consumers!) to regain control of the products we own, make the most of them and extend their lifespan by learning simple maintenance and repair tips.

By learning to take stuff apart, we will progressively learn what to demand from manufacturers: more sustainable and open design, extended software and hardware support, better customer care. More importantly, we will learn that it’s much more satisfying to learn to repair the gadget we own than to constantly desire the one about to be released. Don’t despair – just repair!

9 responses

  1. John Jackson

    I have iPodTouch, 4th Gen. 6.1 When my battery goes or if something breaks down, where do I go to have it repaired? I don’t have the know-how.

    1. ugomatic

      We don’t yet have recommendations for shops or independent repairers – hopefully soon. But you can also buy a battery online, bring it to a Restart Party and learn how to change it together with one of our volunteers!

    2. S1b

      Try They do a pretty good job of providing instructions on how to take things apart (and put them back together).

    3. Alastair

      Try It worked for me in respect of an iMac of 6years vintage

  2. I’m a beginner when it comes to fixing technology. I bought a iPhone 4 repair kit from Amazon the other day, because my power button on the top right side doesn’t work when pressed. I had seen on Youtube that some people had inserted a small piece of paper between the button and some component inside. Unfortunately when I tried it, there wasn’t enough space for a bit of paper to slide in, and I didn’t have the knowledge to try something else. My local repair shop has said it would cost £25, but I’d love to fix it myself. At least I fixed the home button which sometimes need multiple clicks to do its job. I followed a video which used some isopropanol cleaning fluid to work into the sides of the button, seems to have done a good job! Unfortunately I bought a new Canon all in one printer the other day because the quality the old one was printing was poor and I didn’t know how to fix it, and new cartridges would have cost £20+ when a brand new printer with cartridges cost me £55. The difference is cost between new cartridges and a new printer is ridiculous!

    1. ugomatic

      Well done for taking initiative on your smartphone. It’s not always easy, precisely because of how they are designed. As for printers, we hear you: manufacturers make so much money out of locking you with proprietary cartridges that they don’t need to make money out of printers. What’s key is to learn maintenance strategy, limiting chances of your printer failing in the future. If you still want to learn how to improve your old printer, come to one of our events and we’ll be happy to try improving it with you.

      1. blazenweb

        I’m in Warwickshire, am I right in saying that most events are London based?

  3. James

    My iPhone 4 had a problem after I dropped it. When making calls I could hear people talking but they couldn’t hear me. I looked it up on YouTube, bought a set of special iPhone tools and set to work. The problem was a recognised one following dropping. There’s a weak connection in the circuitry that often fails. A guy had uploaded a fix that involved opening it up and placing a small piece of card between the back of the phone and said circuitry. I was a bit apprehensive and thought the £10 for the tools might be a waste, but it worked. Very satisfying. I definitely agree with users reclaiming mechanical control of these devices from a financial perspective, but I’m not sure there’s an ecological one. Old smartphones etc… are not discarded in landfill are they? There’s a buoyant market in second hand and reconditioned devices in this country and overseas (both for working and non-working devices). If they are scrapped then their valuable mineral content is not wasted. But I’m all for people improving the quality of their relationship with mechanical possessions through a better working knowledge of them.

    1. Hi James, glad that iPhone hack worked for you! We’ve tried it before without any luck. Many old phones are actually shredded and ground up for metals, this should be for terminal, end-of-life devices. Otherwise, you are right to say that they have a resale value and people should try and sell them to others who will give them a second life. Thanks for sharing.

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