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Each year the Electronics Reuse Conference awards a lifetime achievement award in my name (it's a long story on how that came to be).
This year the award went to Kyle Wiens, the co-founder of iFixit. iFixit is an online repair community and parts retailer internationally renowned for its open-source repair manuals and product "teardowns."
When Willie Cade of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers and I awarded Kyle Wiens with the lifetime achievement award, we had a hard time keeping the list of his contributions to the repair field brief. Kyle is only 30 years old but has done quite a lot already in his career. For instance, he co-founded iFixit, which is now a multimillion-dollar social enterprise, during his freshman year at Cal Poly.
His writings have appeared in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Wired, Popular Mechanics, and The Wall Street Journal. And he is now a primary voice worldwide for the right-to-repair movement.
As a child, Kyle Wiens spent time with his grandfather, tearing apart VCRs and tape players to see how they worked. The idea for iFixit came about after Kyle dropped his Apple iBook and tried to fix it, but discovered that there was no service manual for the computer.
His view was, "If you buy an item, you should have a manual to go with it." He got together with his dorm mate Luke Soules, who had worked in an Apple repair shop, to create their own iBook repair manual. They decided to put the manuals online for free, and over the first weekend received more than 10,000 hits. iFixit was born.
Currently iFixit hosts more than 17,000 free repair manuals and has empowered over 15 million people to repair their broken stuff. Much of what it does is noncommercial. iFixit gets most of its public attention from its teardowns of major electronics product launches. These are little four- or five-minute videos that reveal what is inside each device, its workmanship, and how hard or easy things like batteries are to replace.
The teardowns lead to repairability ratings, in which each device is rated on a 1 to 10 scale. These have helped to stimulate significant design improvements by Apple, Dell, Samsung, and other electronics companies. The iPhone repairability scores have steadily improved since 2007. The original iPhone earned a 2, largely for its nonremovable battery.
iFixit also hosts a significant online repair community via its free answers forum where anyone can ask any repair question. I also like iFixit's excellent news blog.
Kyle and iFixit advocate for the right to repair for everyone. If you own something, you should have the right to fix it. Over the last several years, this right has eroded. If we open up most of our devices, we are usually violating the warranty and (in some cases) federal law.
One of Kyle's first victories in the right to repair was in 2013, when he successfully advocated for legalizing the unlocking of mobile devices so they aren't locked to a single carrier like AT&T or Verizon.
Just a few weeks ago, due to diligent organizing by Kyle, and, of course, others like the recycling trade association ISRI, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the rules changed again to free up more repair rights. The huge Volkswagen scandal seems to have helped the cause.
The U.S. Library of Congress, working with the U.S. Copyright Office, completed its "triannual" rulemaking on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These rules will be in place for the next three years and have freed up our right to repair an expanded list of things. They include wider unlocking of phones, tablets, and smart TVs; and fixing vehicle software. Check out Kyle's blog post about the right-to-repair gains that are in place for the next three years.
That's easy. He is expanding the Digital Right to Repair Coalition. He describes it as "a united front of consumers, environmental organizations, the aftermarket, and digital rights advocacy groups."
The coalition's next battleground is rulemaking in New York, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I have no doubt that it will do great things for the field of repair and refurbishment. I have a feeling this guy is just getting started.
Image 1: Sarah Cade
Image 2: iFixit