Don’t bother me now I’m waxing my phone

13.43, Wednesday 15 Feb 2023

There is a joy of maintenance that I feel like modern consumer electronics overlooks?

So my iPhone hasn’t been charging properly recently. It’s unreliable – it charges, then it doesn’t charge, then I wiggle the wire and it charges again. A pain.

I got a wooden toothpick from the drawer and dug around in the lightning port, carefully excavating a couple balls of impacted pocket fluff and miscellaneous fibres and dust.

Then: plugging in my phone had a new and reassuring thunk as the cable seated properly in the port, and charging reliability is once again top notch.

A satisfying process!

I do this every 6 months or so.

YET – I find myself labelling this task as a failure of the industrial design. Oh, the charging port gets fluff in it! Get rid of the port! Invent a whole thing for wireless charging!

Which is a shame.

Because in other worlds it is a marketing benefit to use oil in your car that makes it run better over time. It is a pleasure - and a performance benefit - to oil a cricket bat, or wax a violin bow, or season an iron pan. A vocation to prune a bonsai.

Stewart Brand, technology Merlin*, is writing a book about maintenance.

The first chapter is a standalone essay and a WILD ride about:

…the Golden Globe around-the-world solo sailboat race of 1968. Its drama continues to echo half a century later because three of the nine competitors became legendary – the one who won, the one who didn’t bother to win, and the one who cheated.

It’s online at Stripe’s Works in Progress.

Their stories are usually told as a contest of wills and endurance, but at heart, it was a contest of maintenance styles.

Read the whole thing!

There are some lessons. e.g. if you don’t fix something when you first see it beginning to fail, it is very likely to finish failing just when it is the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with, such as in the midst of a storm.

And such daily maintenance is also good for the soul.

But the main lesson is that there is one approach which is to over-prepare and aim for zero maintenance – but, it turns out, this is fragile.

(That, of course, is the strategy my iPhone takes.)

* or Comte de St. Germain, take your pick of catalytic immortals.

At this point I might make a connection to the long-lost movement of Adaptive Design and ask about phones and laptops which embrace and encourage end-user maintenance. What could we design differently, how would the commercials work etc.

Hello Fairphone, right? Maintenance is a route to environmental sustainability too.

However! I have justly been outed as a genre blogger:

In much the same way as the golden age sf short story authors, he has a fairly standard suite of conceptual strategies; the excitement of the form is seeing the transform that those strategies produce from whatever his starting materials happen to be.

(Thank you Paul Graham Raven, I am tickled and delighted.)

AND SO, in the sprit of the archetype, let’s imagine some smartphone maintenance add-ons.

Along with my 19 quid polishing cloth (for any Apple display, including nano-texture glass), could I please purchase:

A special formulation of 5G grease which, when applied regularly to the back of my phone, buffs into a lacquer that blocks rogue radio signals yet is utterly transparent to the specific frequencies and modulations of 5G, meaning that my baseband modem has less work to do, in its separation of the wheat from the electromagnetic chaff, having a positive effect on both battery life and bandwidth as measured in bits-per-second.

Instead of my wooden toothpicks, I would like a guaranteed lint-free defluffing pick, for the regular hoiking of detritus from various ports (charging and otherwise) perhaps a cutting-edge 3D printed ceramic or perhaps carved from the wishbone of an ancient bird.

A multivitamin supplement, to be taken with breakfast along with my daily handful of nootropics, that boosts the dielectric qualities of my thumbs, meaning that my capacitive touchscreen reads me more immediately and more precisely, leading to fewer texting typos and smoother, tighter, more impressive bezier curves in my sketches in the Notes app.

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