The Agony and the Ecstasy of iPhone6s Repair

What the inside of an iPhone6s looks like.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog I’ve made a very dull hobby out of repairing old Mac devices including iPods, iPads and an old desktop computer. I now have more functional Apple devices than I have uses for. This week I tackled the repair of my ancient, but still in use, iPhone6s.

My phone needed a new battery, screen (ironically, broken while repairing my iMac), lightning and headphone connector assembly. At just shy of $100 for all the parts, sourced from iFixit, my repair was a dubious financial gamble. But I just can’t stomach throwing out a device that’s the product of horrible labor practices and extractive mining, especially since it still worked.

Breakfast nook Genius Bar.

By far the hardest part of this repair was getting the broken screen off. Apple uses a strong adhesive that doubles as waterproofing. To loosen the adhesive you need to heat up the phone with a hair dryer or heat gun and pry off the screen with a suction cup that iFixit sells. You will also need a lamp with a magnifying lens, especially if you’re old like me.

Once you’ve got the screen open the main challenge is to keep track of the dozen or so different sized, microscopic screws. I used labelled bowls, but some people use an ice cube tray. The iFixit guides will step you through the repair process as well as help you keep track of all those infernal screws. As you do this you will gain appreciation for the workers who spend long days doing nothing but turning a screwdriver–a hell that I can’t imagine.

Another thing I’d suggest is patience. If things go south for some reason, take a break and come back to it later. Definitely check the phone before you reassemble it. In my case, before I applied new adhesive, I powered up the phone to discover that it was locked in a shutdown loop. I thought that I had damaged the logic board somehow, but on doing more research I discovered that faulty third party batteries are common and will cause this problem. I had another battery for Kelly’s phone and plugged this one in and the phone worked perfectly.

Replacing the screen was simple, the battery somewhat more difficult and the lighting and headphone connector assembly the hardest, because it involved removing a whole lot of screws and other parts. I would suggest reading the iFixit instructions thoroughly before you begin to make sure that you have all the tools and parts you need to complete the repair. I’d also suggest reading the comments to see what problems people have had with the repair or with the instructions.

I’ll note that one of the shortcomings of iFixit’s crowd sourced repair guides is that, at the end, they say, “reverse the steps.” Most of time this is okay but sometimes the process of reassembly isn’t the same as disassembly. This is where sorting through the comments helps. iFixit sells an adhesive strip that supposedly restores the phone’s waterproofing. You don’t need this but I bought it just for the experience and it was easy to apply.

My iPhone6s now works as new and serves its purpose. Looking back on all the mad device repairs I’ve done, the most rewarding was the iMac drive upgrade I blogged about previously. In that case I ended up with a fast, new computer.

I’d encourage you not to be afraid of doing iPhone repair. That said, I wouldn’t do this with a device that’s still under warranty or a more recent and expensive iPhone. Basically, I do these repairs on devices that would otherwise end up in the landfill. I’m still using my iPhone 6s as a phone but old iPhones make great mp3 players and small wifi devices. I still use a 2009 era iPhone to play tunes in my woodshop.

We tend to forget about the physicality of the computers we’re surrounded by. They are made by people, often in horrible conditions. The materials are mined at great ecological peril and even in their use they are supported by  server farms that require vast amounts of energy and human toil. To make sure the adhesive seals you stack a bunch of books on the phone. The video tutorial I watched used a copy of Steve Job’s biography. I substituted Marx’s hefty Grundrisse. As I think Marx would say, our iPhones are embedded in a web of social relations and physical conditions. If you want to understand this device, you might start with disassembling it and you’ll need a book of many more pages than Job’s biography to both put it in context and to make the glue stick.

Weekend Linkages: Spiders and Fast Food Ghosts

Michael Grave’s original plans for Portland City Hall had a little town on top via @jmfowl.

Two Men Had To Be Extinguished After Catching Fire At Goop Store

A beautiful art book about spiders

LA Restaurants Are Breathing Life Into the Architectural Ghosts of Fast-Food Past

China Miéville: “If you don’t feel despair, you’re not opening your eyes”

Energy use from US cryptomining firms is contributing to rising utility bills

Reject Modernity Embrace Post-Capitalism

Meme using a photo by Edward Burtynsky.

I had an aesthetic/moral/anxiety crisis this month which triggered a case of writers block that just wouldn’t stop. The causal chain of my block had a number of reasons but let’s just say that the feel-good filters we use when navigating this world dropped away for me a bit and I became overwhelmed by the multiple crises we seem to be in right now.

One of those problems is the sorry state of the places we inhabit in what we were all taught is supposed to be an “exceptional” country. I think it’s safe to say that the quality of cities in the U.S. went into a steep decline with the ever expanding sprawl of the latter half of the 20th century. Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass quotes a Native elder “The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still in the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or not.”

In our day to day lives we screen out the horror of this rootless landscape. We don’t think anything of navigating a hellscape of cars, concrete, billboards and power lines. Worse, our filters blind us to the suffering of our fellow human beings: the poor, the disadvantaged, refugees, and those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness. These filters, instilled in us Americans through the rhetoric of exceptionalism, also don’t let us see the exploitation and injustice perpetrated in our name around the world.

We live under the spell of a rapacious capitalism that’s a race to the bottom and the aesthetic ugliness that surrounds us is just the visual manifestation of a system that accumulates unfathomable wealth for a few and leaves so many people bedding down every night on the hard concrete.

Perhaps we need a Virgil to guide us through the layers of hell and purgatory we find ourselves in and lift the filters from our eyes. During my period of writers block I kept thinking of writers, artists and film makers who attempt, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to wake us from sleep walking through this injustice both aesthetic and moral. I thought I’d rattle off a short list of people who aspire to this role, each of whom actually deserves a lengthy blog post of their own.

High Culture Haters
A long line of enemies of modernity has queued for this gig but unfortunately they tend to have a right wing outlook I’m not a fan of. I’m thinking of people like Roger Scruton, Prince Charles, James Howard Kunstler and Trad Architecture Twitter shit posters. The problem with these critics is that they reduce the problem to the moral failings of designers and architects. They conveniently avoid the real elephant in the room which is a capitalist system that seeks to exploit human labor and relationships and every single resource the earth has to offer. In short they are moralists who fail to make a systemic critique.

Michelangelo Antonioni
I just re-watched two of the films of one of my cinematic heroes, Michelangelo Antonioni: Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. The first part of Zabriskie Point takes place in the billboard strewn and ugly Los Angeles of my childhood and even includes a scene at a gun shop just blocks from the house I grew up in. I think what makes these first scenes so compelling is, in addition to the astonishing cinematography, Antonioni’s outsider viewpoint: as a foreigner he can see the things we filter out.

There’s a trajectory in the film from the student revolutionaries at the beginning to the liberatory ending with its discordant Pink Floyd soundtrack over a literal explosion of American consumer goods. Zabriskie Point dates from a period, long before the Marvel dreck we’re stuck with now, when people still thought a movie could change the world. On re-watching Zabriskie Point this year, that final scene sent a shiver down my spine because, let’s just say, I have hope that we’re about to experience its revolutionary potential.

I won’t get into the The Passenger but, in short, it’s a prescient commentary on the post-modern condition of Instagram inauthenticity and you should definitely watch it. The Passenger is the internal landscape to the physical landscape of Zabriskie Point.

Skeleton88

There’s a YouTuber who goes by the name Skeleton88 whose hobby seems to consist of making high res videos with a GoPro mounted on top of a car while driving around Las Vegas and other western U.S. cities. His videos, as bleak as anything in the horror fiction of H. P. Lovecraft or Thomas Ligotti, have no narration or music.

I don’t know Skeleton88’s motivations. Sometimes I think these sorts of videos are about blaming homeless people and sex workers for blight, as if they were at fault for the ugliness of our cities rather than victims of a system that both creates ugliness and fails to take care of people. Perhaps it’s just an oddball hobby, but Skeleton88’s viewpoint, a kind of car top Eye of Sauron, tends to dehumanize. Google Street View has a similar viewpoint.

To get a better lay of the land you have to leave the car and talk to people, otherwise you separate the built environment from the social relations from which it arose. That said, it’s hard to deny the impact of Skeleton88’s videos where a kind of supernatural horror seems to lurk just behind the auto body shop on a bleak Las Vegas boulevard.

Octopolis

Another candidate for our American Virgil goes by the name Optopolis. He tours and live-streams mostly abandoned retail spaces on the outskirts of towns in Wyoming and Colorado. His videos remind me the essays of the land artist Robert Smithson, who wrote about America’s blighted infrastructure as if it was like discovering a Mayan ruin. I had a lot of trouble narrowing down Octopolis’ prodigious output for this blog post. I recommend you spend a mind bending evening binging his work. And if you’d like to know what I was like as a young person, well . . .

Segregation by Design

Segregation by Design is a website and social media project by architect Adam Paul Susaneck that profiles the erasure of African-American neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal” during the 20th century. In Instagram, Susaneck posts before and after photos showing once thriving neighborhoods turned into the sort of horrific landscape depicted in Skeleton88 and Octopolis’ YouTube videos. The Segregation by Design website takes a systematic approach, showing how redlining and demographics were weaponized to eradicate minority neighborhoods and install freeways and parking lots to benefit suburban white commuters and financial interests. He’s already profiled 12 cites and has a plan to do many more.

We Prefer the Before

We Prefer the Before is an Instagram account that shows the horrific HGTVification of the last decent period of vernacular architecture in this country, those magic years from around 1900 to 1929. Here in my own neighborhood most of the old bungalows have been bungled by house flippers who rip out walls and details and paint everything white, white and white. Chip and Joanna Gaines are, of course, the ring leaders of this dark satanic trend. Not since the Puritan’s iconoclasm have we seen as much architectural detail smashing.

For you, my dear readers sake, I suffered through a few chapters of Chip Gaines’ latest book in an attempt to find some sort of philosophical basis for this madness. It was all about how much he WORKS and then he WORKS SOME MORE and then WORKS EVEN MORE. Chip’s book reminded me of what Mark Fisher had to say in Ghosts of My Life,

Capital demands that we always look busy, even if there’s no work to do. If neoliberalism’s magical voluntarism is to be believed, there are always opportunities to be chased or created; any time not spent hustling and hassling is time wasted. The whole city is forced into a gigantic simulation of activity, a fanaticism of productivism in which nothing much is actually produced, an economy made out of hot air and bland delirium.

Capital demands that we rip out a perfectly good 1920s bathroom and replace it with the latest stream of vomit from Home Depot. And when the lateral wood and diagonal tile go out of fashion in a few years capital demands we rip it out again. The iconoclasm combined with the de-skilling and exploiting an underpaid immigrant workforce inherent in the flipper methodology deserves a longer blog post.

What we need to end this cycle is for David Cronenberg’s to do a horror movie with the Gaines’ as the art directors. Cronenberg has always been interesting to me because he sets his bio-horror films not where you’d expect, say in a dilapidated Victorian house, but rather in our impoverished and sterile modern spaces. Maybe the sight of some bloody lump slithering across the laminate flooring or a blood splattered giant clock, will finally stop the Gaines’ reign of terror.

Tartaria

Of all the critical looks at our current built environment by far the most insane is the small community of people in the Reddit forum r/tartarianarchitecture. These folks seem to believe (like a lot of internet stuff it’s hard to tell if this is one big troll) that a lost Tartar civilization built all the nice pre-WWII buildings and that they are systematically being erased. Tartaria is architectural Qanon. Here’s how journalist Zach Mortice describes this conspiracy theory,

The overall premise is an alternative history. A vast, technologically advanced “Tartarian” empire, emanating from north-central Asia or thereabouts, either influenced or built vast cities and infrastructure all over the world. (Tartaria, or Tartary, though never a coherent empire, was indeed a general term for north-central Asia.) Either via a sudden cataclysm or a steady antagonistic decline — and perhaps as recently as 100 years ago — Tartaria fell. Its great buildings were buried, and its history was erased. After this “great reset,” the few surviving examples of Tartarian architecture were falsely recast as the work of contemporary builders who could never have executed buildings of such grace and beauty, and subjected them to clumsy alterations.

Like a lot of conspiracy theories it seeks a clear and certain explanation for a much more complex history. I’d be into enjoying this conspiracy, as well as the trad architecture fans on Twitter, if it weren’t for the racism and antisemitism that inevitably creeps into this stuff.

Some good news to wrap this up
We may not have found a definitive Virgil for our little tour of hell but, in the midst of my silly little writers block crisis some good things happened here in Los Angeles. A young activist and fellow DSA member, Eunisses Hernandez beat an entrenched incumbent and machine Democrat, Gil Cedillo in a race for city council almost nobody thought she could win. Another candidate and DSA member that I’ve been doing some volunteer work for, Hugo Soto-Martinez, came in nine points ahead of the incumbent Mitch O’Farrell and will head to a runoff in November.

Both Soto-Martinez and Hernandez represent the sort of leaders who understand the connections between poverty and the sorry state of our built environment. We can take care of people and have trees and beautiful public spaces. Give us bread, but give us roses.