Learning how to repair and value electronics

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This article was first published on Friends of the Earth by Janet Gunter

© Restart
© Restart

Who hasn’t been frustrated by a laptop with a dodgy dvd drive or a camera that suddenly goes on the blink?

The Restart Project believes that we must regain the repair skills to make our electronics last longer. This keeps them out of landfill and cuts down on waste. But the real magic is when we lose our fear and take apart gadgets, reclaiming control over the technology we depend on.

The broken electronics people bring to our community events all tell a story. Working out together how to fix them takes the frustration and turns it into fun. In the process, we learn a great deal about problems with manufacturing, and what better designed products would look like.

Take printers, for example.

A frustrated participant brought her Epson Stylus D68 to one of our Restart Parties. It had died suddenly with no warning, two lights blinking red. To make matters worse, she had just replaced both ink cartridges.

A quick Google search revealed a number of people complaining about the same problem, and that this is due to a chip inside the printer set to stop further use after a certain number of pages. The owner faces a sudden, unexpected failure.

Epson claims that this internal counter is set to prevent excessive ink from spilling.

We opened up the printer to check for ink overflows – nothing. The ink pads on the bottom were brilliant white. Even if there was a spill, the owner should be able to clean it rather than be stuck with a machine that no longer prints.

Clues on fixing it came from The Lightbulb Conspiracy, a documentary about planned obsolescence – when things are built to break. The film featured a Russian programmer who created a piece of freeware utility that would reset the printer.

We downloaded the utility and followed some simple instructions. Like magic, the Epson restarted. A simple piece of software helped us trick the printer into a fairer, longer life. Subsequently we learned that Epson now offers its own utility but discourages users from using it with a long disclaimer.

This story tells us that we need to learn for ourselves what needs to change and demand action from manufacturers.

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