Repair as Mitigation

Jackson’s essay focuses on and differentiates not only the technology available but also the psychology involved between the twenty-first century and the past. In particular, he focuses on our sense of disposability regarding matter, to an extent including commodified other people.

He states that we perceive our world as artificial or temporary, a phenomenon I agree with and believe has occurred as long as consciousness has existed. One must continuously supply oneself with water, air, doos, etc; the inevitable competition encourages self-centeredness and the consistency reinforces it. This instinct would have lessened over time, as most people (though not all) at least usually have access to their basic needs. Now, we compete for what we want, a distinctly socioeconomic shift.

For instance, phones are a social signal that are temporary, arbitrary, and require upkeep/repair. Yet people usually wish to purchase entirely new (therefore “better”) phones and only seek repair due to the cost. “Repair is about space and function,” Jackson writes, “…inherits an old and layered world…above all, repair occupies and constitutes an aftermath.” It manifests the pace of society. It’s worth noting that that society is more singular than ever before, in large part due to technology.

 

Repair bridges our fulfilling our actual needs and wants and fulfilling those internalized/brought on through society with the mediums of media and technology. We feel compelled to not just own but show that we own (therefore being able to afford much, therefore being more desirable). However, most of us cannot afford every single thing we want for any reason. Thus, repair exists. It also occurs to me that sentimental value can influence the attitude/repair/replacement of items. This concept has presented an obstacle for some: companies like Apple purposefully limit the extent to which one can reuse and repair their technology in order to force continued purchases and updates.

 

Repairing vs. Recreating

I enjoyed this article because it really does force you to think about where things go after you throw them out and or return them. iPhones don’t just dissolve in landfills, ships don’t sail forever after you step off them, and people make mistakes. Our minds often work in the mentality of out of site to of mind. In reality the things we create do go to a final resting place, either to be rebuilt, taken apart or destroyed. All of this I agree with and Jackson does make a convincing argument for the significance of repair to human existence

The question I was left with was, at what point does repairing becoming recreating. I know that Jackson says that repairs lead to innovation and I agree that this is true, but at what point does a repair cause an object to lose its character as a singular entity and transform into something entirely new.

The definition of repair is “fix or mend (a thing suffering from damage or a fault).” Taping over holes in a hose with duct tape is a repair, stripped a boat for parts isn’t. That ship as an entity is gone, each piece now has its own role in the modern economy. I think back to when I use to play with legos. I would create the pre-designed structures and spaceships and I’d set them aside to play with later. My brothers and I would all then play with our various lego creations together. Meaning that our creations would inevitably break into hundreds of unrecognizable pieces. We were then left with a choice, recreate the broken ship from memory (no child keeps the box and or directions after a lego creation is built), or take the parts and create something totally new.

Whenever we would try to recreate the ship something would inevitably go awry. It would be a dilapidated, misshapen shadow of its once self. Yet this was ok. It had taken on a new form. We did not pretend it was the same spaceship because it wasn’t that one had broken and become this new thing. Sometimes that new thing was even better than the first, because I didn’t try to repair it, instead I decided to recreate it.

Jackson recognized the importance of restructuring broken systems and objects, but he believes that these actions still fit under the umbrella of repair. I just feel his definition was a little too broad and by making everything seem like a repair of whatever similar invention came before it Jackson unintentionally undermines the importance of mistakes in the process of human creativity.

Mother of Invention

Jackson’s discussion of repair as a form of innovation brought to mind Apple products, which are designed to be as difficult as possible, or preferably impossible, for a consumer to repair at home. There are dozens of stories from consumers who brought their products to the Apple help desk only to find that the issue was a bit of dust in the charging port or that Apple refused to repair the device at all and suggested replacement or upgrade. Apple technicians are prohibited from repairing any phones that show signs of consumer attempts at repair, including off-brand replacement phone screens. Despite the intentionally troublesome design of Apple products, dozens of repair companies spring up, and several YouTubers have gone viral for their home-repair videos. Although none of these issues would exist if Apple did not make it so difficult and expensive to fix their products, or even if they always agreed to repair the devices as part of the company services, anyone who decides to fix their own phone or tablet learns more about the technology that they use every day, and none of those troubleshooting solutions would exist either. If the secrecy and obstacles did not exist, neither would the workarounds, and both general and technical knowledge would suffer for it. In scientific research, several discoveries have been made on accident when attempting to understand a separate problem; I imagine the history of technological advancement reveals similar experiences. Necessity and creativity combine, in this case, and lead to innovation (or, to better follow the phrase, invention).

Planned Disappointment

Planned obsolescence is a phrase I first encountered long ago (well, more than a decade ago, at least) when I got my first iPod.  I was obsessed with the little metal brick and its clean, white wheel to navigate the menus.  I took that iPod everywhere with me, and so I was understandably upset and a bit confused when, after taking as good care of it as a 10 year old can, I discovered the wheel no longer scrolled up, only down.  I was told by my dad that the device was simply too old, that it was bound to break eventually.  I remember this notion striking me as odd and even unfair, and I definitely did not understand right away why planned obsolescence existed.  My dad, being the cynic that he is, explained that it was largely for the corporation (Apple, in this case) to make money more regularly from their customers.  If your device that you love and become attached to breaks, you will not hesitate to spend another several hundred dollars to replace it.  Beyond this, its not even possible to repair your own device when it breaks without voiding the warranty, essentially making the device worthless if anything else does wrong.  I didn’t grapple with this notion as much, as I was young and not able to fix the device myself anyway.  With time, I either forgot about planned obsolescence or just grew comfortable with the concept.  Furthermore, I don’t know what say I have as an individual about the matter.

Reflecting more on that idea and that experience now, I realize that I was right to be upset, disappointed, angry even that we are not allowed to fix our devices when they break or even expect them to last more than a couple of years.  It is crazy that we spend thousands on computers and phones, hundreds on watches and other devices, none of which are designed, let alone can be expected, to work as planned for any significant period.  Jackson asks ‘how are human orders broken and restored (… and who does this work)?’ (223) The answer of course is people, but specifically the people who are involved in both the formation of the order, and those who are a part of its function.  Jackson also wonders ‘who fixes the devices and systems we “seamlessly” use?’ (222).  The answer, if you ask me, should be the same- that is, it should be both the corporations who are responsible for the formation of the devices and systems (because they are knowledgable and have the means) and the people who interact with the devices and systems everyday (because sometimes it is just easier, cheaper, and more simple to solve the problems as they arise, when they do).  It seems to me that once you purchase an item, it is yours and you should be free to at least follow preset instructions to try to fix it if and when it breaks.  Finally, it is ridiculous that we should allow products to be built specifically with their destruction date in mind.  This is a horrible waste of material resources, power, and time that could all be cut if devices were just made to last, and especially to be easily repairable.

If we could make cars in the 60s that were relatively fast, stylish, effective, cheap, and comfortable and they were easy to repair and keep running for at least 60 years, it seems just as possible to do so with our electronic and other devices.  If we can shift our way of thinking to this mindset that Jackson supports where we focus on the longevity and repairability of our things, we might just save a lot of trash, pollution, and energy while also improving customer satisfaction at the same time.

The Future of Fixing

Upon my second reading of this piece, (shout-out to DIG 401), one passage I didn’t pay much attention to the first time stuck out to me. On page 229, Jackson speculates, “Can breakdown, maintenance, and repair confer special epistemic advantage in our thinking about technology? Can the fixer know and see different things—indeed, different worlds—than the better-known figures of “designer” or user?” 

We’ve discussed before how so many products nowadays are ‘designed for obsolescence’, and how difficult it is to get things like computers and phones repaired. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I repaired anything, other than the shoe I repaired for the project assigned in our seminar. At least based on what my grandparents and older family members have told me throughout the years, it seems like previous generations were much more tapped into the kind of “broken-world thinking” Jackson talks about. In poor rural communities like where my grandparents grew up, if something you needed broke, you had to either repair it, or figure out a way to replace it with whatever objects you had lying around. Generally speaking, we don’t do that anymore, and the people who do have the special knowledge required to repair digital items like iPhones now carry a sort of social and economic capital, making ‘fixing’ a valuable skill.

These thoughts lead me to wonder – as older generations and their skills die out, will there be a revivalist ‘Fixer Movement’ to replace the current Maker Movement? Or perhaps as the world acknowledges all the e-waste it’s producing, will giants like Apple democratize the repair of its products?

Greek Breakdown and Tourism

While reading the article for Wednesday, I was particularly interested in the section on Edward Burtnsky’s Shipbreaking #4 and how the picture and what it represents was used to discuss the themes of breakdown, maintenance, and repair. His picture captures what happened to 80 percent of the world’s ocean fleet once the ships “die” or go out of commission. While this process is routine and normalized, it is still shocking to read about because the process is visibly removed. Overall, I appreciate how this article draws attention to and argues that breakdown, maintenance, and repair are understudied and under represented both physically and digitally today.

Burtynsky’s picture specifically reminded me of a place I visited a year and a half ago. While I was abroad in Greece, I visited the island of Zakynthos which is famously know for Ship Wreck cove (pictured below). Navagio or Ship Wreck cove is where a ship wrecked in 1980 and has been untouched ever since to serve as a tourist attraction. As seen in the pictures, the ship is placed aesthetically in a beautiful untouched and isolated cove where visitors can explore history, absorb beautiful views, travel to a remote area while simultaneously viewing a rusted and decomposing old ship.

In comparison to the scene in Burtnsky’s Shipbreaking #4, Ship Wreck cove is similar because it shows the breakdown process of an old and decomposing ship. However, it situates the ship in a public and very visible manner that the tourist industry is able to make money from. Therefore, this is a counter example or potentially even an exception to the main argument of the article. I think it is even ironic how the breakdown process is being celebrated and recognized as beautiful, when a majority of ships are sent to breakdown in a remote and isolated part of the world.

Pictures taken from my visit at Ship Wreck cove in Zakynthos, Greece.

Policing the Grief for the Death of Notre Dame

Today will probably go down as one of the most culturally tragic days in history, at least until the next movie star’s death. Fire engulfed the spire of Notre Dame (literally “Our Lady”), and made it topple to the ground. The cause seems to be an electrical fire caused by the ongoing renovations, which will no doubt call into the validity of current preservation methods, along with likely a slew of questions of how to preserve the landmark, whether to build it up in false grandeur, or to memorialize the place it once was.

But that’s not what this class is about, is it? As the tragedy was unfolding, people took to social media to share their grief and their love for the church now lost to an unfortunate conflagration. While many just shared stories and memories of times they had been fortunate enough to visit the landmark, others decided to share pictures of themselves there. Many of these pictures showed the person smiling, maybe with their arms spread wide or even possibly a funny pose. Quickly after they posted these pictures, another group of social media users followed. The Grief Police.

Some of this group criticized those who had posted the pictures directly, questioning what their true motives were with posting whatever photo they did. Others took a more mocking tone, as depicted in the picture below.

I will admit, I don’t believe that memorializing Notre Dame by posting a picture of yourself on your study abroad trip is maybe the best method out there. But this does bring up a good question, when the thing you’re memorializing is an iconic landmark, are pictures of yourself at the landmark an acceptable remembrance? As far as I know, I haven’t seen people have such disdain for when someone posts a picture of themselves with a celebrity, but it seems to be popping up with this landmark.

An update to this Sighting post, I found another tweet mocking the perceived premise of many of these memorial photos:

Landfills are to video games as graves are to humans

In reading Landfill Legend for tomorrow’s class, I felt as though the way in which the author described the Atari video game and its general commercial demise mirrors that of an actual human life. The author speaks about three phases of the game’s life: pre-existence, commercial existence, and disposal and memorialization. There is talk about the conception and discussion of the game before it came to fruition, much like people discuss and then conceive a human baby. The author also discusses the “life” of the game, during which its value and purpose derive from the ability to generate profit. As soon as that ability is stripped, or in this case was never realized, the “life” of the game is ended and then needs to be dealt with.

It is at this point when the comparison of the video game to a human life is most apparent. In describing the role of the landfill in which the video games were deposited, the author calls it a “nondescript marker: a final resting place that propels us backward to learn more about why products were buried, and how they continue to reach beyond the grave and fascinate us decades after” (Guins, 209). This is much like the function of a grave, from which a haunted spirit “emerges” to remind us of past events and or human mistakes made throughout history. Just as a “writer, musician, actor, or porn star, E.T’s fame lives on long after its demise” due to the “memorialization of its burial” (Guins, 210). In this way, the author directly likens the burial of a video game in the landfill to the surviving legacy of a human public figure, as “its afterlife status as memorialized object, particularly that the legend refuses to lie dormant” has survived similarly to how the legacy of a prematurely-ended human life might have been. It is almost as if, given the way the game was hastily generated and rapidly devalued during its time on the market, the essence or spirit of Atari’s ET will not let us forget how the potential of the game was precluded by human haste and greed for profit.

Toy Story: The Uncanny Valley of Non-Robots

This will be a little bit of a stream of consciousness post. I defend this by stating that, in sorting through the ideas of discarded trash, the working through of ideas related to nostalgia and the “social death” of late-capitalist waste, incurs a kind of necessary airing out, an inherent kind of decluttering (Guins 225).

My Haunted Media project kind of builds on Raiford Guin’s work on the “afterlife” of video-games in its treatment of objects as imprintations of humanity. (Which, as a side note, I wonder to what extent Guin’s is using or employing afro-pessimism’ terminology of social death that occurs in Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death. I was only previously familiar with that phrase through works in Africana courses).

My point in this is that I’ve always read the term social death in relation to humans. So for the term to refer to discarded emblems of humanity, the objects left after us, is a complicated reframing process for me.

To what extent are “objects” ever socially alive? When they’re in use by the humans who maintain their necessity and “use-value” (Guins 226). Guins sort of eludes to the fact that some objects may become more “alive” when they’re dead, they incur a kind of legacy value in our eyes as consumers.

But I’m more curious about this idea that we look at objects as somehow sentient, as having this kind of personified relation to us. Especially when thinking about the “uncanny valley,” I wonder to what extent that term necessarily only applies to robots.

The first thing I conjure in my mind is the series Toy Story, specifically the last movie in this trilogy. The audience of children and adults alike were forced to watch childhood toys face the only immortality objects can truly have–the decomposition of their use to humans (Guins 223-225). Many characterize the last Toy Story movie as frankly depressing and discomforting.

I myself experienced this, recalling my own shorn-headed barbies and dust covered baby dolls that lay in piles somewhere to mold in a storage bin. The idea that the objects we have fondness for somehow undergo an emotional abandoning, a kind of killing, I think represents perfectly this notion of the uncanny valley.

My questions following Game After are to what extent can we come to empathize, as Guins seems to show, with objects? And how do our notions of temporality and self become bound in the materiality of the objects our hands ply on a daily basis?

Dark Tourism Isn’t New

In reading this article, I was generally confused to the arguments and points that it was trying to make. While the abstract does state its intended purpose as “an attempt to explore and understand tour guides’ interpretations of tourist’s experiences . . . at Chernobyl”, I struggle overall with the concept of “dark” and “toxic” tourism. I simply fail to see how either term appears to be anything special or different from tourism that has already been defined.

In my opinion, the idea of “dark tourism” and its implicit inappropriateness is something that is being socially cultivated but with little actual substance. I understand how a cohort of individuals who deliberately seek out sites of mass suffering and death can be disturbing but as a tourist industry I do not see how we can make a distinction between such “dark” tourism or tourism of a place such as Pompeii. My grandfather recently took a trip to Pompeii and when he returned he was eager to send pictures around the family. I saw images of the ruins with detailed tourist filled descriptions and viewed photos of petrified bodies and homes with my grandfather standing next to them looking somber but nothing “dark” such as the idea of perverted “dark” would suggest.

How is one supposed to make the distinction between the “dark” tourism of Chernobyl, a site of mass casualty estimated at about 600,000, and that of Pompeii’s ruins? In my opinion, the distinction is made by society because we are much more uncomfortable with Chernobyl due to its proximity to us within our time stream and our lives. There are many people who are alive who witnessed the event and thus this has been sanctioned as a place of mass death creating a foreboding location lending credence to the thought of it being a “dark” tourist site. While I understand this notion and feeling, I find it wrong to deem it as some new form of tourism because humanity has been visiting sites of mass death for so long. From Pompeii to Auschwitz to Normandy, tourism of places of mass death is nothing new. Of course the idea that members of the public are deliberately seeking out places of suffering is extremely uncomfortable, the reality is that it is difficult to make such a wide reaching claim about tourism in general to Chernobyl and thus to deem it as a “dark” tourist site is incorrect.