Cup of Squid
~musings and folly~

The Right to Repair

There was a right-to-repair initiative that made the rounds during one of the last voting cycles. While the one I had voted on had been for cars specifically, there are other right-to-repair initiatives for phones, laptops, video game consoles, and pretty much any proprietary item you can think of that has a complex enough set of parts to require “special maintenance”.

I think about this with websites and web apps. I am working on three different things right now, all of which have varying levels of difficulty to develop.

  1. An app my partner created with Node, React, and TypeScript.
  2. Transferring a site from Google Pages for a client to a custom app in Ruby on Rails.
  3. Building a cookbook site with my metamour using an 11ty template.

The first one is way harder than it needs to be. Through no fault of my partner’s own (they are an experienced developer), everything requires us to Google how to do it. Everything. I am in charge of design and the front end, and Material UI with React has given me a run for my money – and my time.

I’m prepared to blame the JavaScript ecosystem, which I hate with a burning passion. But unfortunately, it’s easier to find collaborators who know it, even if it isn’t the best one. I cringe to think of any non-developer trying to tinker with an app built in that ecosystem.

The second one has been a bit more straightforward thanks to Rails being so user friendly. But my client isn’t a software developer and he wants all the bells and whistles Rails has to offer, but will likely have no idea how to do it. Training him will come down to his budget and my time.

The third is in that rare sweet spot of being able to be deployed to Netlify while still allowing me to code in a system I know, but my metamour is also able to simply sign in to Netlify and make updates as she pleases. All while knowing very little to no code. She will have a little bit of a learning curve, but it will not take more than an afternoon of us sitting together and walking through it.

So why aren’t more apps and websites like the third one? Why is it that clients must come to us for repairs and not be able to make their own?

Yes we would be out of money for maintenance, but I would much rather be creating than maintaining. Besides, empowering our clients and giving them a taste of development might actually allow us to make some strides in improving technological literacy.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that improving said literacy would also wake people up to the ways that tech companies exploit them. I put this alongside the initiative of making more codebases open source.

Open source codebases and improving tech literacy of non-developers, which puts the right-to-repair into their hands, would allow for a much more equitable online community as well as allow for innovation.

On the flip side, this would also require us as developers to demand more of the systems we use. We need to ask those who created (and maintain) these systems why on earth it takes months and years of experience to do simple things.

It should not take a rocket scientist (or an expensive online course) to figure out how to build a website with Node/Express/React.

It should not take a software developer or a designer to make palette changes when a client is interested in updating a color scheme.

Our tools should be both usable by us developers and by others. It’s time websites and web apps were included in these right-to-repair initiatives.