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Mashable Says You Shouldn't Own What You Buy Because You Might Hurt Yourself

The news site Mashable has apparently decided that you, the general public, are simply too dumb to actually own the stuff you thought you bought because you might just injure yourself. We’ve written about so-called “right to repair” laws and why they’re so important. There are a variety of issues, but the most basic one here is about property rights. If you buy something, it’s supposed to be yours. It doesn’t remain the property of whoever first made it. And they shouldn’t then be able to deny you the ability to tinker with, modify, or repair what you bought. However, Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff (last seen here being completely clueless about the importance of anonymity online because he, personally, never could see a reason why someone might want to speak truth to power without revealing who they are), has decided that because you might be too dumb to properly repair stuff, the entire “right to repair” concept “is a dumb idea.”

The article can basically be summed up as “I have a friend, and her iPhone wasn’t repaired properly, so no one should be able to repair your iPhone but Apple.” Really.

My co-worker, Tracey, held her iPhone like a baby bird with a bent wing. 

I stared at the dark screen. The device was still on, but stuck somewhere between living technology and a dead iPhone. Tracey said that the device made a popping sound and got really hot in one corner while she was making a phone call. Then, her screen cracked, and burnt her ear. She wanted to know what to do. She explained the incident happened shortly after having third-party iPhone screen repair company iCracked replace her shattered iPhone 6 screen. iCracked was ready to let the original technician repair her phone again. I warned her against it. The phone was obviously dangerous—and letting them touch it again probably wouldn’t help. In fact, I thought it might hurt.

Getting past the “using a single anecdote to generalize to absolutely everyone,” this still makes no sense. If we want to rule that any kind of repair/modification/tinkering shouldn’t be allowed if it might not work right, well… there goes the entire DIY space. This weekend I repaired a broken toilet. It’s entirely possible that I could have messed it up (in fact, I did at first, but after a couple of helpful YouTube videos, I got it figured out). Should I not have been allowed to do that? Should I have had to call a plumber who would have charged me $150 just to walk in the door? Lance Ulanoff apparently thinks that’s the case. I’m not exactly a handyman, but over the years, I’ve repaired a ton of stuff in my house from broken dishwashers, computers, garage door openers and more. And sure, if I did it wrong, it could have been dangerous (that garage door opener, in particular, was pretty tricky). But do we really want to live in such a paternalistic society that we shouldn’t even be allowed to do that? That seems to be the crux of Ulanoff’s article.

Right-to-Repair? What a ridiculous thing to say. No one has the right to repair anything. You might have the skill to repair something (something that iCracked tech might’ve lacked). And you can hand people all the schematics, instructions, and parts you want and they still won’t be able to replace an iPhone battery or screen.

This is an even sillier argument. His complaint here is with the semantics. It’s called a “right to repair,” but of course no one’s saying everyone will have the ability. The question is whether or not you can even try to repair something that you bought. It’s really a question of property rights and whether or not you are breaking the law just trying to tinker with something.

The wonderful world of innovation we live in is built off of people tinkering. The computer industry that makes Mashable possible only exists because a bunch of people were tinkering with different devices and built multiple massive industries out of it. But, Ulanoff is effectively saying that all needs to stop now. Only approved sources can tinker.

Later, Ulanoff tries to clarify that he’s fine with people being able to repair stuff… if it has moving parts.

It’s not that I don’t believe in better-built products and repairability. We need tightening against planned obsolescence cycles—TV sets that once lasted 25 years now fail after five. I’m also a tinkerer. I’ve taken apart everything from VCRs to BlackBerry Curve phones and their classic scroll buttons. When I see moving parts, I think: repairability. Today’s phones have almost no moving parts. At least the iPhone 6 had a moveable home button. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus don’t even have that.

Why the distinction? Who the hell knows? Ulanoff never explains it beyond “when I see moving parts, I think: repairability.” Well, good for you Lance. Have a cookie. Not everyone sees the world the way you do. Some people like — for example — replacing the significantly weakened battery on their phones so that they can make it last a lot longer. Some people like to replace their cracked screens rather than having to buy a new phone.

But, in the end, Ulanoff is just really concerned that you’re just too dumb and you’re going to hurt yourself:

I think it’s a fair concern that Right-to-Repair laws could lead to an explosion of Radio Shack-like iPhone and Samsung electronics parts shops. Consumers will wander in with broken iPhone and Samsung Galaxy screens, and walk out with all the parts and tools they need to repair them. And they will fail, miserably.

Plus, what if a consumer’s injured during a failed repair attempt? They slice open a finger on the cracked glass, or put it back together incorrectly, so the battery fails (and maybe even explodes). It’s the consumer’s fault, obviously, but they could also try to sue Apple or Samsung.

Try to sue? Sure. Succeed at suing? No. And, really, is that the big concern here? No one should be allowed to tinker with their own devices because they might fuck it up and sue Apple. What?

In the end, once again, this is a question of whether or not people actually own what they buy. Ulanoff, by default, seems to be saying they shouldn’t be able to do so. Because they might hurt themselves. Because they’re too dumb to know that glass might cut them if not handled properly. But is that really the job of our laws (including copyright law, which is a key component in blocking people from repairing their own phones…) to say “you can’t fix or modify something you bought because you’re an idiot”? Ulanoff, like in his silly article about not seeing any need for anonymity, apparently doesn’t see any need for people to fix their own stuff. Even worse, because he doesn’t see such a need for himself, or his friend Tracey, he’s decided it’s a-ok for the law to clamp down on people who actually are competent and actually are able to modify, tinker or repair products such as phones.

This seems like a very odd way for Mashable to create its opinion pieces. Having some random dude extrapolate his own experiences to apply across everyone. Folks at Mashable responded to lots of people mocking Ulanoff’s silly piece by pointing out that it also published a counterpoint. But, as I’ve noted, this is why I find point/counterpoint arguments so useless. It puts the two arguments on an equal footing and suggests that “welp, you decide.” That’s silly. Ulanoff’s argument makes no sense and is based on nothing more than his own confusion about how the world works. Mashable should feel bad about publishing such an article and pretending it’s legit journalism.

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Author: Mike Masnick

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