Sustainability and Honesty in a TV Repair Shop

The Dilemma of a Repairman

In the 1990s, I worked at a TV repair shop in Sydney, Australia, where the owner taught me to fix only what was asked, not to fix everything. The typical problem was loose connections. The fact is that it's easier to just solder everything than to look for specific problems. However, this was not rewarded. If I did everything at once, the TV would no longer break down and, accordingly, the income would decrease. In the same way, auto mechanics fix cars over and over again when they can change several parts in one service. In addition, the repair of everything at once takes a little more time and, accordingly, is more expensive but less cheap in the long run. The consumer does not want to fix what is not broken. It turns out that consumers do not want to spend less, and business are not motivated to be honest!

Consumers have optimised another cycle related to the quality of TV sets. People tend to buy cheaper TVs, which leads manufacturers to produce cheaper and lower quality products. While TVs used to come with a 5-year warranty, now they often fail after only a year. Manufacturers now do not support repair shops much and instead replace faulty sets with new ones under warranty.

Who wins the race?

Thus, consumer electronics break easily, while industrial and military and industrial electronics last half a century due to the lack of motivation for frequent upgrades. This unsustainable profit driven cycle leads to a weaker consumer society and a stronger military-industrial complex.

While people may not be getting better, TV technology is definitely evolving. With each new model, TVs became thinner and cheaper in screen size and resolution, which excited the possibilities of the human eye. This constant development of technology makes it difficult for consumers to keep up with the latest trends and has also created a situation where older TVs become obsolete quickly.

I realised that this constant cycle of innovation and obsolescence exacerbated the growing problem of e-waste as more and more electronics were thrown away as they became obsolete. It made me question the true value of our ever-evolving technology and whether it's worth the environmental impact.

Save money not - true story anecdote

Here is another anecdotal case when the urge to save money and the planet costs more to people. A repair shop owner told me how he and his partner once placed broken TVs on curbs around the block before council cleaning, but some people picked them up and brought them back to his shop. The owner took a fee for saying that the TV could not be fixed :). It worked until there were no competitors in the area.

The second law of thermodynamics and consumer electronics

The behaviour of both customers and business owners is optimised by the second law of thermodynamics. This law states that all systems eventually tend towards a state of greater disorder or entropy. In the case of consumer electronics, they are designed to break down and become obsolete after a certain period, which creates a constant demand for new products. Consumer imagination, pride and the desire for innovation also contribute to the consumption of resources. On the other hand, businesses are interested in maximising profits by reducing costs and minimising the time and effort spent on repairs. Hence business optimised to consume cheaper resources, such as fossil fuels. Hence biggest CO2 emitters are rich countries.

Although the economic and social system based on profit is obviously unsustainable, I felt that there was little I could do to change it. My attempts to fix the system by becoming more honest and efficient have failed, and I have often seen honest people suffer as a result. As a result, I decided to keep my sanity by limiting my duties and preferring a little more honesty to profits. While this may have been a small step, it gave me a sense of personal fulfilment and made me feel like I was contributing to positive change.

I have come to the conclusion that change often occurs on a small scale and that the actions of individuals can have a significant impact over time. While I may not have been able to change the entire economic system, I could still change my life and the lives of those around me. My time at the TV repair shop was not only a job, but also an education in the broader economic and social forces that shape our world. It got me thinking about how we consume and produce goods, and if there is a greener way to live and work.