On TechCrunch, Devin Coldewey has an essay about the way technology has been evolving lately away from user-serviceable (or even single-party-manufacturable) toward locked-down and inscrutable. We no longer have the ability to fix our own hardware that we might one day have had, and some hardware is getting more and more locked down. (Case in point: the latest line of MacBooks, which feature soldered-down memory and glued-down batteries. No user-serviceable parts in there!)

And as devices get more and more integrated, even putting together one’s own desktop computer may be on the way out. Tablets, e-book readers, and other mobile devices are all-in-one machines that you simply replace if you break. (For that matter, so are TVs, if only for economic factors rather than lack of modularity—the units themselves are so cheap now that it might cost half as much as a new one to repair an old one.)


But perhaps the biggest threat, Coldewey suggests, comes not from the hardware itself but from the paradigm it represents.

More troubling is the deeper marriage we are seeing between hardware and software. How many OS X and iOS-specific functions do you think lie beneath the placid mask of the A5 processor? How long before locked bootloaders and UEFI and intelligent cables prevent you from installing a new OS or streaming from non-approved sources?

And thanks to virtualization, we often aren’t even running our own software or storing our own data on our own machines anymore.

In the end, technological progress is not what should worry us—it’s how Amazon, Apple, the MPAA, and others can restrict us from making full use of the technology and the media we already have. Of course, the more advanced the technology gets, the more controls they can build into it—just look at how quickly the MPAA jumped on the possibilities offered by DRM to place legal padlocks on the DRMs (and subsequently Blu-rays and digital downloads) we buy. But that just means it’s more and more important to be on our guard.


  1. It’s been years since I’ve felt the desire to repair or modify my own car. Or even change the oil. The increase in complexity bothered me at first. But now… it’s really not a problem.

    I prefer the benefits that can come with fully integrated functionality. On the whole, they all pretty much just work. Do I really want to be responsible for maintaining electronic stability control, a dual-clutch transmission, a torque-vectoring differential, ensuring that carbon fiber or high-strength steel replacement parts are what they say they are? How many people really do?

    If you do, please have at it. But I have other things I want to be doing with my life.

    We’re not in the 70s anymore. And to be honest, I’m kinda glad.

    [Also, please try to edit your posts before you push the publish button: “Locked-down technology enables to locked-down philosophies” ?? ]

  2. Locked down technology benefits users in almost all cases where the producer is doing so for good design and operational reasons.

    Case in point being Apple, the most effective implementers of this strategy.

    Locked in iPhones and iPads and MacBookPros deliver a far superior, more compact, lighter and small product to the user. It saves on space, energy and cost. And in Apple’s case it plays a large role in delivering a way better level of software performance than it’s competitors. Just look at the inferior performance of Android devises.

    The last thing I want to do after shelling out a dose of money is to have to start dismantling it. I want a product that is reliable and made to perform out of the box until it’s death. If it dies early then so be it. Life goes on.

    This fetish-like interest in dismantling is a throw back to the olde days when men liked to fiddle with mechanical things in their garages and sheds.

    Those days are gone. The days of changing the oil, of setting the engine timing, of changing the points; those days of battery pulls, opening and cleaning keyboards and roller balls. All dead, at least in the world of Apple … thank GOODNESS.

  3. So replacing a battery in a computer is the equivalent in difficulty of basic car maintenance? Philosophy be damned. The only philosophy here is profit — either you replace a device or you pay through the nose to have it repaired. In either case, the consumer is taken for a ride. Side effects: more dependence on “experts” to run our lives, more ignorance about what’s behind the curtain, unacceptable costs for anyone who doesn’t live at an economic level where they can afford to just toss and replace; more solid waste, much of it eventually leaking toxic components.

  4. Each to his own I guess … but I suspect you are in the small minority. Speaking for my experience by the way I have had desktops since they first came out and some for 6+ years and have never had to replace a battery. Not once. Ever.

  5. Two very significant factors factors here that no one seems to have mentioned: Our throw-away, one-size fits all mentality is leading us to ever growing mounds of electronic trash and the attendant toxicity of heavy metals involved in their decomposition. The other is elimination of more and more working class jobs as repair facilities disappear and computerized robots assemble our future trash.

  6. Many thousands of extra jobs are being generated that more than compensate for ‘repair’ jobs. That is the way economies adjust and change over time. The same thing happened in the motor industry. Customers getting screwed for repairs to devices that should have been manufactured to a higher standard in the first place. Good riddance.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.