The Right to Repair

In their article “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”[1], Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka propose repurposing media and electronics that are past their prime as a method of media archeology and an artistic practice. Reading this, I wondered how the practice will be affected by the miniaturisation of electronic components. Gone are the days of easily modifiable circuits with through-hole electrical components; modern circuits use surface-mounted components and multilayered PCB boards. Most examples of circuit bent electronics are old for a reason: modern electronics are difficult to modify.

Through-hole resistors

Surface-mounted resistor

Related to the difficulty of modification is the challenges in repairing electronics. Modern electronics are notoriously difficult to fix once broken. This difficulty is in part caused by their complexity and the aforementioned modern construction methods, but crucially it is also because of purposeful obstruction by the companies that produce the electronics. Not only do companies by design make the electronics difficult to repair, for example by using proprietary screw heads to make the cases difficult to open, but many, such as Apple Inc, make it contractually illegal to even open the device. No wonder that 57% of Europeans report not fixing their phones because of expensive or unavailable repair options[2].

In reaction to this, a movement has emerged in the past decade calling for the right to repair. It advocates for legislation which would make repairing easier, by making contractual repair restrictions illegal and by compelling companies to release documentation for how to repair their devices. Having originally gained traction in the US in cases such as automobile repair and farmers not being allowed to repair their tractors, the movement has now caught root in the European Union. A “Circular Economy Action Plan” draft in 2020 calls for the standardization of parts, such as charge cables for phones, and for making it easier for consumers to have their electronics repaired[3].

[1] “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”, Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka

[2] “Identifying the Impact of the Circular Economy on the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry: Opportunities and challenges for businesses, workers and consumers – mobile phones as an example”, European Economic and Social Committee, 2019, 

[3] “Europe Wants a ‘Right to Repair’ Smartphones and Gadgets”, New York Times, 2020,