Countering “Throw Away Society”

We lamented the passing of Alvin Toffler not long ago. My introduction to his works was being told at the start of Grade 10 Social Studies to read the first couple of chapters of his book Future Shock. The idea of how few generations had been on the Earth was, to me, a head-shaker.

Toffler got added to my personal list of things to expose to young, impressionable minds. Right up there with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and James Burke’s Connections. Fill a youthful mind with ideas that empower you to see the world around us in a vastly different way from popular culture and peers. The world is bigger than you.

One of the ideas he presented in his work was the notion of The Throw Away Society. Remember that this was the mid 80’s for me. His vision that people would sooner throw away something and buy new rather than fix was a little far-fetched at the time. Not so much today.

About three years ago, I purchased a pair of Razer Electra headsets that were heavily discounted. I am not a big fan of ear-buds, so to have a comfortable headset on to tune-out the world was a must for me. I came to really appreciate the purchase when I discovered that the cabling had a noise-cancelling built-in microphone compatible with an Android phone. Having the headset on and plugged into my mobile made calls to others much smoother. This was a good purchase.

Then the other day I noticed a problem with the ear cushions. For whatever reason, the seams of the fabric holding the foam were coming apart. It wasn’t tearing, probably just a few years of use/abuse on my part and not the best adhesive on the seams. What I could not justify in my head was turfing a mechanically and electrically sound headset just because.

I had been led to believe in a little self-reliance. Always expecting someone else, usually Mom, to sew a button back on a shirt was not cool. And Her Majesty’s Canadian Forces were more than happy to provide extra sewing practice. During basic training you would be expected to sew laundry tags on each article of clothing you possessed to uniquely identify it as yours when it came out of the wash. So, yes. I got lots of practice with needle and thread over the years.

Out came my sewing kit, procured in Cornwallis, N.S. during basic all those years ago. I proceeded to fix the ear pads by hand stitching the seam. It wasn’t a difficult task; just time consuming and requiring focus to keep things tidy. I can officially say it - I darned my headset.

You could accuse me of being cheap. However, the manufacturer no longer made replacements parts. Buying new was not really much of an option at the moment. And lastly, I had the skills to fix. I call it pragmatic, thanks. No throw away here.

Sometimes manufacturers do not give you much choice in whether to repair because of design. Not everyone has the skills or tools to repair electronics. So when my wife mentioned that her tablet wasn’t charging, I cringed at the prospect of throw away tablet.

We had purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro SM-T900 a couple of years ago. 12.2” of 1080p digital real estate. The device is constantly in her hands. Having the tablet not charge was rather torturous for her. After some basic fault finding, I found the culprit. Heavy use plugging and unplugging the charging cable, and a little mishandling along the way, had worn and bent the pins of the micro-USB connection.

I have a web browser and I know how to use Google. Off I went to the web where I discovered, to my shock and suprise, that the connector to the tablet could be replaced. Wow! Sometimes designers get it really right!

I had all the tools necessary - spudger to pry open the back and a small screwdriver. I procured a replacement USB connector cable assembly from Skyline Engineering, who appeared more trustworthy than some of the operators inhabiting Amazon. I had the replacement part in my hands for $25.

Prying open the back of the tablet was a matter of working the spudger in between the back cover and tablet edge, push hard on plastic retainers, and pull up on the back cover. Slide the spudger along and repeat this process all around the back of the tablet. Not difficult, but my fingers did get a workout.

Inside Tablet

And removing the tablet back was the hardest part of this operation. Replacing the USB cable assembly was a couple of phillips screws and small connectors. Everything was fixed and re-assembled in under an hour. End result? I had a happy wife who had her tablet back in working order and we didn’t have to throw away ~$700 in electronics because of a worn USB connector.

Not everyone has the tools/skills, or the patience, to go the lengths I did to fight the throw away culture that has developed over the years. It becomes convenient, or just lazy, to buy new. However, I choose not to contribute to a landfill where possible. I’ll fight against The Throw Away Society where I can.