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).

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.

Reflections on the Ethical Use of Public Images

It seems like the overarching theme of this week’s discussion has been asking what is or isn’t ethical in regards to using a deceased person’s likeness. One person wrote, “When an actor or model participates in the creation of a piece, they are part of a community”, while another said, “The way I see it, the estate should have the right to sue in cases of unauthorized use AND misuses of the deceased’s image…”. While I agree that in an ideal world, estates or family members (or FNOKs) would have full agency over the deceased’s public image/works, I believe, like Jack said, that it’s nearly impossible to do that – and we have Barbara Streisand to thank for that. The Streisand Effect is the rule that if a famous person (or their estate) makes a fuss about something, say an unauthorized, scandalous use of an image, that image will then receive much more attention than it ever would have before.

Sorry, Beyoncé – this image is never going away.

Not to be super cynical, but like we’ve discussed in class before, it’s  extremely difficult to scrub things from the ‘cloud’ once they’re on there. In the case of celebrities, I think it’s just something they have to accept comes with the territory. For us regular Janes and Joes though, I definitely agree that there should be safeguards or channels in place for legal action to be taken against unfavorable use of images.

Digital Resurrection in a Different Light

After Wednesday’s class on digital resurrection, I was particularly interested in many of the moral or ethical questions that were brought up when we discussed our dead celebrities in small groups. The questions we explored about how we would treat the celebrity or interact with their art or music or image differently after they died compared to when they were alive were interesting to me.

After class I also began to explore more of the specific moral and ethical questions that are asked in the #metoo era that we are in, especially in regards to celebrities. My group discussed Michael Jackson and I found it interesting when the larger class discussion was brought up about whether or not it was morally wrong to still listen to or buy his music. My first thought was “he’s dead, why does it make a difference” but then I thought of what it stood for and what kind of image I was supporting and I started to change my mind. After a quick research session I found that writers had very strong options on either side. Suzanne Moore believes that Michael Jackson’s music is dead to her, while the Admin Team from MJ Vibe believes you should play his music now more than ever. Two very polarizing viewpoints that I think capture both sides of the debate.

I also started to think of the opposite digital resurrection of Michael Jackson, where a celebrity comes back after they have died with a better and more profound reputation based off of something that happened while they were alive but there was increased awareness of that action/circumstance after their death. My first thought was Robin Williams due to the mental illness he suffered from before taking his own life. I think he was digitally resurrected in a much stronger and positive light after people found out about his suicide and all that he was going through leading up to his death. Everyone was amazed with how much joy and energy he put into his films, while also experiencing a dark and terrible time of his life. Therefore, I noticed that digitally resurrecting someone in a different light than when they were alive, is normally based off of events that happened when they were alive, that are now being more highlighted once they have died.

Digital Wills and Communal Works

In some ways, control of one’s image after death seems linked to the concept of a digital will.  A few weeks ago a friend brought to my attention the concept of a “Fannish Next-of-Kin,” a term dubbed by the Organization of Transformative Works in regards to their fanfiction archive. The FNOK can assume control of the deceased’s account after their death and execute whatever the deceased asked them to do, such as removing the user’s stories, orphaning them (removing the author’s name but leaving the stories up), or publishing the remainder of unfinished works. Like a person’s image, this form of digital will concerns the future of a profile, a representation of someone’s self.

Fanworks are more closely tied to the community in which they were created than a traditionally published work is–fanfiction writers and artists communicate with each other and with their audience more directly. Requested works especially belong, in a way, to the community–members of a fandom bounce ideas off of each other, prompt each other, and spin off other people’s works. Taking down someone’s fanfiction after their death erases the community effort. On the other hand, if a person doesn’t want their family to find their works, the community should be understanding of the deceased’s wishes.

When an actor or model participates in the creation of a piece, they are part of a community. We cannot claim full ownership of our image–photographers and editors have approximately equal investment in the creation of the work. But a digital will, which requires the subject to define how they see the future of their work, can be negotiated while the subject is still alive and involve the other contributors. We can’t make a blanket rule because not everyone has the same views on how they want their work treated.

Commodification of Death, and How to Deal with Disputes

The articles from Wednesday, and particularly some of my class mates’ blog posts touch on the commodification of death in our society.  It is clear that celebrity deaths more often than not lead to more ‘fame,’ whether it be more followers, more hits, or more streams.  However, I’m not sure this is really so much a marketing tool, as Richy brought up, as it is an artifact of our digital society.  While increased ‘fame’ for someone like Nipsey Hussle is definitely a good thing, he is certainly an outlier in this regard.  Nipsey stood for a lot of things, most notably changing the ways in which we struggle to see eye-to-eye with one another, and he spread this message through his music and many other efforts.  In the case of, as a random example, Mac Miller, he didn’t necessarily have such a stance that was worth increased fame.  Of course it is sad to lose such an artist, but Mac Miller having more streams on Spotify doesn’t impact society in a greater way.

In terms of dealing with images of a person and uses of their likeness, I think that people’s likeness, including but not limited to cartoon renditions and physical images, should belong to them.  In the case of dead celebrities, I believe that their estate should be allowed some say over how the deceased’s likeness is used.  The problem with this is that its just not feasible, with the way the internet works, to fully control something like this.  The way I see it, the estate should have the right to sue in cases of unauthorized use AND misuses of the deceased’s image.  However, it is important that these suits aren’t carried out just for monetary profit, but rather to maintain a person’s image in their absence.

Further, to respond to one of Tess’s questions, I don’t think there’s a difference between calling them images or biometric data or likeness, but I see where the confusion might lie.  At the end of the day, these are all ways to describe the same information that is unique to an individual and therefore carries tacit connections with that person, no matter what.  Like I said before, though, I’m not sure exactly how this should play out legally, but fundamentally I’d like to think that I get some say in the way that pictures of me are used.

How Can You Come Back If You Never Left

Our recent readings and discussions have focused on the “resurrection” of dead celebrities; I find this premise intriguing particularly in how it contrasts living reactions to the deaths of the non-famous.

I’m reminded of when we watched the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back. We respond to events, like deaths, in frameworks of their relativity to ourselves. Martha in the episode, for instance, had a much more visceral reaction to losing Ash than, say, her sister did. Celebrity is built upon boosted amounts of people feeling connected to a distinct individual. The boundaries of that connection are not or perhaps cannot be designated except by societal opinion case-by-case, leading to transgressions.

Modern production, distribution, and media only encourages the relationships people feel they have with celebrities who usually do not know them individually. So, disruption happens most definitively when the famous person dies. The physicality of their relationship per fan never actually existed; it therefore cannot be taken away. If a family member dies, closure occurs in that those left behind cannot interact with that person anymore. When a celebrity dies, a fan can still watch movies, listen to music, buy memorabilia,etc. made by that person, just as they did before the death.

Thus, no boundary has been created, and celebrity deaths lose their grounding as applied to fans. It was odd when Martha, in Be Right Back, resurrected Ash’s voice and eventual body (sort of). Listening to David Bowie’s music after learning of his demise, though, was regarded as normal and in fact encouraged in reality. That example specifically goes further: Bowie’s posthumous music releases in 2016 garnered much higher listening rates as well as slews of comments about degrees of devotion to him and his work, attempts to physically connect with or to connect more than others with Bowie.

The absence of physicality in celebrity-fan relationships, as opposed to mere person-to-person relationships, fictionalizes them. I’d be interested whether more toxic behavior happens related to celebrity deaths or to more intimate deaths.