My headphones died a couple of months ago – a great pair of Sennheisers. The cord had shorted out for the second time in a just a few weeks. The first time it happened I’d got a replacement from Amazon and to have them break again so soon made me sick. I’m sure Amazon just chucked the old ones in the bin and posted out a new pair, so this time I decided I’d fix them myself.
Late at night under the kitchen downlights I grimly set to work on the headphones with my multitool. My multitool, incidentally, has become my entire toolbox since all my actual tools are in Italy – we live in a rental now, profound interventions are banned.
I poked and probed the headphones looking for a way to take the jack apart but it was soon clear that there was no easy way. The rubber casing was fused on. Undeterred, I pared the rubber back with the knife looking for the shorted connection. But the wires were encased in solid rubber at random depths, the connections to the jack fell to pieces, and in short it all went wrong.
I was gutted. Clearly these were unmendable consumer goods intended to be used for a few weeks or months and thrown in the bin. Worse, I suspected that shredding my own headphones with a multitool had invalidated the warranty so no chance of a replacement from Amazon.
The reaction from folks in the office the next day was: of course you can’t fix headphones, just get a new pair. I muttered disgustedly to myself and resentfully jabbed the keyboard as I bought another pair online.
Then, a few weeks later on an icy day just before Christmas, I slipped on a platform at East Croydon and smashed the screen on my iPhone.
I sat on the train home rubbing my bruised elbow and staring gloomily at the web of cracks spread across the small screen. From a practical point of view there was no problem – the phone still worked – but I couldn’t help being hugely annoyed. When I looked at the phone all I could see were the little glass crevasses.
The reaction in the office was: send it back to O2, you’re at the end of your contract anyway, they’ll probably send you the new iPhone. Chuck it away, they said, get a new one. Suddenly I’m Howard Beale from Network and if the office had openable windows I’d have thrown them open and launched into a tirade.
So in a fit of passion I decided to perform open heart surgery on my iPhone. Sure, I was 0 for 1 in the consumer electronics repair stakes but enough was enough. And in my irrational state I somehow found my initial failure with the headphones heartening – like I’d gained valuable experience. I don’t know why, especially when I consider that the experience I’d gained was don’t try and repair mass-market gadgets.
I bought a new screen on eBay and found instructions on YouTube. It was quickly apparent that replacing a broken screen was a serious undertaking: you’ve got to take the whole phone to pieces, disconnecting circuitry as you go, extract the old screen, and then rebuild the lot. The instructions from the eBay seller said to allow at least 2 hours.
Then last weekend, with Tess and the kids at a birthday party, I laid out all the tools (suction cups, tiny prybars, even tinier screwdrivers) and the new parts in the kitchen and psyched myself up for the job. Staring down at the operating table, I considered forgetting the whole thing. After all this was no pair of penny-ante headphones, this was several hundred quid’s worth of delicate circuitry – surely a job for professionals. But I was soon overcome by the compulsion to do stuff with tools and so recklessly set to work.
I don’t have time to convey all the details but it was harrowing. Sweat beading on my forehead, bent over my disembowelled phone with tiny screwdrivers in each hand, several miles past the point of no return. It took an hour to watch the YouTube clips (5 of them) and the full 2 hours to replace the screen and reassemble the phone – the first time.
The problem is, you don’t know if you’ve been successful until you get it all back together and try switching it on. Up came the little apple on the boot screen and the phone started fine. But I couldn’t unlock it. The digitizer (the clever layer that knows where your finger is touching the screen) wasn’t working. So I had to open the phone back up and try again.
The second time, I got the digitizer working but the home button was useless. A panicked flurry of emails ensued between me and Adrian the eBay seller (who incidentally was a fantastic chap and hugely helpful – he ought to talk people down from ledges). And in the end we got my phone sorted.
Looking down at my now perfect screen, I almost swooned with pleasure. I had battled back from the brink and stuck it to the man. Never mind that I’d succumbed to the marketing and got an iPhone in the first place thereby firmly propping up the man – that’s not the point. I’d bought my phone, broken it, and fixed it well enough to call another day. Lino, our 70 year old peasant neighbour in Italy, would have been proud of me. Actually he probably would have looked at me blankly and then gone back to skinning rabbits. But I was proud of me anyway. I’d taken another small step away from the throw away culture.
Give me a call on my iPhone if you’d like to discuss.