Life in a post-carbon economy will be about repairing and jury-rigging our aging consumer goods; but it will also be about letting go of things that improve standard of living but not quality of life.
By Jason Allen
Published July 30, 2010
Yesterday was a frustrating evening. My iPod (for the record, a 1st generation, 20 GB model) had a problem with the headphone jack. For some reason, the headphones would not plug in all the way, and no matter how I poked and prodded, I couldn't get the obstruction (if indeed there was one) to come out. I had already replaced the battery a few months prior, and was now faced yet again with a dead iPod.
But lo and behold, I found an identical looking back cover (complete with headphone jack and on/off switch) on ebay for a lousy $7! I emailed the seller, and asked which version it was.
The donor was a match, and I won the bid, and waited anxiously for the 'organ' to arrive.
When I got home tonight, I went straight to work, carefully prying off the back cover, plugging in the cable that attached the bits on the back cover to the main iPod. It fit kind of funny, but I thought I'd make a go of it. I plugged it into the charger, and got set to rock and roll.
Did the headphones work? I'll never know. The iPod was locked, and no matter what I did with the lock/unlock button, nothing would make it unlock. In other words, the main iPod "body" did not recognize the new implant. Organ rejection was imminent.
I pried it open again only to realize that the tiny little cable was about 1 mm too small on either end to fit properly into the slots on my old iPod.
So I binned the whole lot in frustration (although to be honest, I may try pulling it out and selling it for parts on Kijiji).
It has been noted among many Peak Oil advocates that in the future, as the cost of a) producing consumer goods, b) shipping them from the other side of the planet, or c) both, rise with the price of oil, people will turn repeatedly to repairing that which they already own.
Unfortunately, when it comes to many (most?) of the small consumer items we take for granted, this may be somewhat wishful thinking.
The problems are twofold: Who is going to know how to fix things like cell phones, coffee makers, and Blu-Ray players (all of which have microchips and circuit boards); and where are they going to get the parts to fix them?
Back in the early days of munitions production, a trigger from one gun would never fit another gun, and a hammer from a rifle could only be used on the rifle for which it had been custom-made.
One of the things that made the U.S. such a world power was that their arms manufacturers quickly realized the importance of standard, interchangeable parts, and began churning out firearms by the bushel.
Unfortunately, in the world of consumer goods, we may have returned to antebellum levels of parts-incompatibility. Brand X, Model 100 made in Malaysia is often made of parts that are incompatible with Brand X Model 100 made in Taiwan, and so on.
In the world of offshore production, the specs that most companies are concerned with are performance and durability - the 'what it does, and for how long', not so much the 'what bits it uses to do it'.
Sure your coffee pot is broken, but when you take it in to your 'guy' (as in, "I can get that fixed for you, I know a guy"), he pokes around for a few minutes and says "Oh, that's a XYZ chip board, and those are hard to find. Leave it here and I'll see what I can do."
Your options at that point are going to be limited either to getting a new coffee pot (which the manufacturers intended, but may become increasingly difficult), or to developing a taste for hot chocolate.
Life in a post-carbon economy is not just going to be about endlessly repairing and jury-rigging our treasured electronic consumer goods. It's also going to be about letting go of things that improve our 'standard of living', but really do nothing for our quality of life.
It's going to be about living more simply, making do with less, and learning to treasure things like family, friends, music played live in your living room, and homegrown tomatoes.
As for me? I've still got my old 500 MB iPod shuffle. After that dies, I guess I'm back to reading books and doing the crossword on the train.
Kind of like people have been doing since train travel was invented.
First published on Jason's personal website.