Exchange with Preston Glidden on Planned Obsolescence
...with the full development of a market based on decentralized production and cooperative ownership, such as Emilia-Romagna only hints at, it's quite plausible to imagine most or even all of the functions of a factory being farmed out to small home or neighborhoods shops. After Peak Oil hits, one of the first steps toward such an economy might be the machining of replacement parts for appliances in home "hobby" shops. In time, the custom machining of parts for appliances of entirely new design, distributed among networks of such small shops, might become the basis for a new economy.
I suspect that new designs would be needed before this kind of distributed manufacturing really took off, since so many things are designed to be built by specialized automated machines, and are not designed to be serviced in the field.
What I expect are "throwback designs", at least at first. Consider televisions. In the early days of televisions, the sets were made for easy field servicing. Most of the time, all you had to do was look for a dark vacuum tube, and replace it. Drug stores had tube testers that you could use to test the tube yourself. A nearby cabinet had replacements. I don't expect the return to a vacuum tube, but that kind of modular design could be re-created for easy servicing. It would have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly, because we could stop throwing away the whole gadget when one component goes bad.
The TV could be built for upgrades, as well. The currently scheduled transition of standard to digital TV is probably too much for a simple upgrade, but if some super-cool p2p digital broadcast idea came out , it could be integrated into a modular FM radio with a simple plug in card.
Also, if you've ever seen the inside of a modern television, or most any electronic gadget, you'd see that the parts are machine soldered onto the surface of the circuit board. Such parts are very difficult to solder by hand, but the older design of through-hole soldering was made for hand-soldering. So I'd expect a throwback there. Most kit ham radios that are still sold today use through-hole tech.
Of course, as I commented to Preston, this tied in pretty closely with my earlier discussion with Eric Husman of Grim Reader blog on planned obsolescence:
The combination of patents on replacement parts and the deliberate abandonment of modular design by oligopoly manufacturers is probably in part a deliberate strategy of making repair artificially expensive compared to replacement. When the plumber says a washing machine or water heater would cost more to fix than it would be worth, I imagine he's telling the truth. But it's that way for a reason. The replacement part itself is probably patented, and marked up several hundred %. And the overall design is probably aimed at making the simple replacement of a single part as difficult as possible.
In regard to the specific example of TV and radio, my immediate reaction was that anyone independently producing such a digital upgrade module would probably run afoul of DRM or broadcast flag legislation, or some such cartelizing device. Such legislation has served pretty effectively to bar market entry and limit competition in DVD product features to the rate at which a handful of manufacturers want to spoon them out. Preston responded:
I'm not sure of the legal requirements. But there are no technical limitations. The input stage of an audio amp is basically the same everywhere. It does not matter what feeds it, whether AM/FM receiver, satellite, or p2p. All it would need is a common control mechanism, probably software programmable. Digital control buses are easy to design. You might not even need a new module, just a software upgrade. In the ham radio field, check out software defined radio for ideas.