Disposable vs. Interchangeable

The current state of western society seems to be built on disposability. Something broken? Replace it.¬†Here is an example from my own life: several years ago, the rope of my showerhead was breaking, and water would leak everywhere. Our solution was to replace the showerhead, rope and all. It didn’t occur to us until much later, that we could simply found a replacement rope. Repairing a part seems like such a foreign concept right now.


I think this mentality is easily extended into the technological world. Technology as we know it creates far too much waste: old phones, old laptops, and various other old devices clutter our drawers and closets. For those who do not get emotionally attached to some specific device bought so many years before, for X amount of money (this is not me; I would be the first to admit irrational sentimentality), recycling is an option. But recycling can be a pain: even if we can find an appropriate place to bring our things, how do we even know if they are recycled properly?

As software evolves to bring us more computational power, the demands on our hardware increase, and suddenly, the computer you bought two years ago is somehow inadequate. Or perhaps some component is broken, and needs to be replaced. In an ideal world, it would be simple to replace a small electronic part. But if corporations make it difficult to do repairs ourselves (e.g., glue down the battery), we are at their mercy, and must rely on large-scale production methodology.

What will it take for us to repair our instinct to replace? Is it possible to combine our current standard of living with smaller-scale production? How much would this change the technology manufacturing industry, and is it sustainable from a business perspective?

2 thoughts on “Disposable vs. Interchangeable

  1. i feel that recycling ‘as she’s practiced’ is exactly the same as the ‘disposable mentality’ – we put something in a bin and it’s gone from site. what happens to it later is more a matter of marketing than anything else.

    a true recycler mentality would have us //actually reusing// the things we’d otherwise toss – reconfiguring them in new arrangements. much like the replacing items in cellphones example you mention.

    i know i harp on this a lot, but maker culture is teaching a new generation of kids how to build their own things, and with that knowledge comes a familiarity with how things work. this “watchmaker’s knowledge” is how tinkering/hacking has, historically, been accomplished. it’s a damn shame that so many hackers use macbooks, imho, because they really discourage the user from knowing how they work. “maker computers” (raspberry pis, arduinos) might do a lot to revitalize that mentality.

    1. Maker culture has succeeded in popularizing DIY, but we’ve always been able to learn how to build things. While it’s great that it cultivates interest in tinkering, I feel like it’s much shallower than it could be.

      I think you’re right about MacBook packaging discouraging users from knowing how they work, but isn’t that true of most laptops? It is still possible to open up a laptop case and look around; it’s just difficult/impossible to replace parts.

      I’d love to see the portable device industry change such that we could build our own laptops and phones as easily as we can assemble a tower!

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