Modular devices, BS excuses, and simple solarpunk solutions

We need repairable devices.

halftone solarpunk collage of flowers and tech with the words "why so many devices?"

This week, I've been fixated on imagining better futures, something that I believe that people who're into the paranormal are uniquely primed to do. Check out Tuesday's essay on cyberpunk vs. solarpunk and yesterday's essay about the manufactured justifications for why we need so many damn devices.

I wrote about how many of these restrictions are arbitrary and human-made, and I gestured toward how it's bullshit that so many tech companies argue that we can't have modular, repairable, upgradable devices. Today, I'll dive into that even more.

Apple—and other manufacturers—have claimed that they can't make their devices modular and repairable. It'd make them too heavy, too thick. And that's not what the consumer wants.

The fact is . . . that's just not true. On any level.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the two options were:

  1. to have a better, more repairable, upgradable, longer-lasting device that's a few millimeters thicker or
  2. to have a worse product with soldered-and-glued-down components, a device that's e-waste within a couple years of its purchase and forces you to spend more money to replace it

If that were the case, I don't think anyone could argue (in good faith) that the average consumer would take the wasteful, inferior second option. But I don't believe that tradeoff is real. It's a straw man to begin with.

Some companies have already proven that it's possible to create repairable, upgradable devices that don't have a huge tradeoff. I have a Framework laptop that's light, thin, and user repairable. I've also had laptops made in the 2000s-2010s (Apple and Lenovo) that were thin for their time and allowed me to at least upgrade the RAM and replace the battery.

But that isn't even the only counterpoint.

The Samsung Galaxy S5

In 2014, I bought the best device I've ever owned: the Samsung Galaxy S5. It had a removable back cover, expandable storage, and a removable battery. And, yes, it was a thin, nearly-top-of-the-line flagship phone.

That removable battery was a godsend; it saved me so many times. I often found myself out late after a long day of work, realizing—at the start of an hour-plus-long subway ride home—that I was about to run out of battery. But that was fine; I kept the spare battery in my bag (it fit neatly inside the charger so you could carry them both with you). It was so easy to swap in a fresh battery that I could do it while standing on a crowded moving train and be going again in less than a minute. No tools required—the back cover just pulled off and snapped back on. And there were no compromises; the device was waterproof, even. (Which I proved plenty of times by using it in the shower and dropping it in the sink.)

In 2016, I had to say goodbye to that beautiful phone. Not because there was anything wrong with it. But the device was locked to the AT&T network. When my contract was up, I switched to a cheaper, no-contract carrier because AT&T was too expensive and their service didn't work in crowded spaces in NYC. (I lost reception at every large concert or gathering, which was incredibly stressful when meeting up with people.)

And because the Galaxy S5 was restricted to the AT&T network, I had to buy a brand-new, worse phone.[^1]

So, if Samsung could make a flagship phone with those features in 2014, why can't they do the same in 2023?

Well, they can, obviously. They just don't.

I'll continue this series next week.

[^1] Though I will say that my next device, a Nexus 6P, wasn't a terrible phone. At least it still had expandable memory and a headphone jack, which is more than I can say for my current device, the overpriced, headphone-jack-less Samsung Galaxy S22+, which is my most-regretted tech purchase to date.