James Foley

My Dad, the fixer

My parent’s air fryer broke the other day. The timing was, as is the way with this kind of thing, perfect. With most of our dinner already cooking and the chips being the last thing to go on, a fryer failure was the last thing they needed. Luckily, I have the exact same model and was able to deliver it just in time to save dinner. Save your applause, I’m not the hero of this tale.

What happened next has really stuck with me these last few days, and has me thinking about our approach to products, to ownership and the balance between convenience and conservation. After dinner the discussion turned to what should be done about the broken air fryer. It wouldn’t switch on at all, there were absolutely no signs of life. Basic troubleshooting (checking a different socket, changing the fuse in the plug) yielded no progress, so I asked was it still under warranty. It wasn’t. I’m away from home a lot lately with work so I offered up my fryer until my folks decided what they wanted to do. I assumed they’d look up whatever the newest model was, and maybe pick one up the next day they were in town.

The following morning I came into the kitchen to find a rat’s nest of cables, electronics and a triumphant looking father perched over the disembowelled De’Longhi proclaiming that he’d found the problem. He had narrowed the issue down to a few likely suspects, and then using his trusty multimeter had discovered that a thermal fuse had tripped (this is a safety mechanism to automatically shut the fryer down if the temperature got too high, it is however a non-resettable fuse) causing the whole unit to die. A four euro part ordered online would solve the problem, and for a fraction of the cost of a new unit, crispy and somewhat healthy fried goods would be back on the menu!

This, is quite frankly amazing, and not just from a monetary perspective. The refusal to see something as a single use good, but rather as a collection of individual components with their own lifecycles is something that my Grandfather’s generation grew up with, and is completely in opposition to the disposal device dystopia that we find ourselves in today. My Dad in turn has taken that same approach to life, and somewhere inside I feel myself coming around to the same line of thinking. I want to be more like my Dad, I want my first question when something breaks to be “how can I fix this?” instead of “how am I going to replace this”. I think it’s incredibly important that we empower people to feel confident taking their devices apart, that we make repair guides and replacement parts easily available and that the throwaway culture of cheap electronics starts to be seen more akin to littering.

Manufacturers and retailers would rather we see their products as monolithic, black boxes that consumers should never be so bold as to look within. Planned obsolescence and proprietary repair requirements are not only an insult to our rights as consumers, but also an aggressive attack on our ability to consume responsibly.

Side note: if you only check out one link from this post, please read about the Phoebus Cartel and the birth of planned obsolescence