Are materials to blame for broken gadgets?

Or is it more of a design issue...
23 May 2023


Fixing a smartphone



We had a programme recently which was all about the Right to Repair this initiative where activists are fighting back against manufacturers making gadgets that we ultimately find we cannot repair. Whether that's because we can't open them up or they're built with unique and impossible to find spare parts. Are the materials in these products a big part of the reason that cheap technology breaks in the first place? Has anyone done an analysis on that? Is it a material science problem or is it just manufacturers' avarice?


Chris Smith put this question to Anna Ploszajski...

Anna - Materials will be certainly a factor, particularly if the aim is to make cheap, short lasting products. The cheaper the materials, generally the weaker and poorer their properties. But I generally think of this more as a design question. It's about whether we can design products and devices that can be easily accessed, easily opened up. And can the manufacturers develop an economy for producing and distributing spare parts?

Chris - I must admit that I think if you asked people, have you got an old gadget from X number of years ago, they'll say yes. And then you say, have you got an old gadget that you've been able to repair from just last week? And they'll say no. So we seem to have shifted into the situation where it is impossible to repair things, but is that just because they're so complicated it moves what is repairable just out of the domestic reach?

Anna - That's definitely a part of it, yeah. You know, if you ask me to try and reconfigure the software on my phone, I absolutely would not have that knowledge. The access that we have to the internet now means that knowledge is at our fingertips. And so the kind of pooled resources of people that do have the skills to fix stuff in big repositories online is a really empowering and fantastic thing. There's a brilliant website called iFixit where people have uploaded all sorts of different ways that you can fix your devices. Even complicated things that seem like you wouldn't be able to, like laptops and smartphones. The how-to guides are on there. They're designed for everyday people who aren't experts, handy people to be able to access this stuff. So there is a movement, a kind of collective movement to be able to fix this stuff. That Right to Repair movement is taking off massively, but it's going to really rely on manufacturers as well getting on board and making it much easier for us to do so.

Chris - It's amazing what you can learn on YouTube though, isn't it? I've learned tons there


Add a comment