I recently watched a Louis Rossmann video about an article where the author realized they didn’t own their own printer and that the manufacturer basically blocked them for using it because they failed to pay a subscription fee. And it got me thinking, do I own the hardware and software that I use?

How do you define owning something? I think we can think of it like this:

  1. Bought with the intention of owning it.
  2. Doesn’t require anything extra in order to function.

Hmm, are those two rules enough to define owning something?

Let’s take my phone as an example, an iPhone. As long as I have internet I can use the device and if I have a cellular subscription I can use the device as a phone to call and text. With this example do I own my phone? I can use it with only internet, but I sacrifice the calling and SMS functionality of a phone if I don’t have a cellular subscription. Another thing with an iPhone as an example is that I’m only able to install the apps that Apple has curated for me through their App Store. Do I own my phone then? I’m unable to install whatever I want on my own device. Further, Apple doesn’t allow me to auto-upload my photos and files in the background because I don’t use their services like iCloud+, I use Nextcloud, and only Apple’s apps are allowed to run in the background and do stuff like that. I could argue that it’s just drawbacks of using an iPhone, but I do however “own” the device, shouldn’t I be the one to decide what’s allowed and not?

Another example could be the laptop I’m writing this blogpost with, another Apple-device, a MacBook. I can set up the device without connecting to the internet and I can use it without an account, but I’m unable to install anything from Apple’s App Store. I can basically install any app that’s compatiable with macOS and I can (somewhat) tweak the system to my liking. But here’s another thing to consider: upgrading. Unlike a phone it’s not unusal to think that you should be able to upgrade your own computer with new components like memory, storage etc. So here comes a third rule. I would say that it’s an optional rule (*), but a noteworthy one nonetheless.

Ability to upgrade (some) components.

We could also iterate on it and say that the hardware should be repairable, preferably by ourselves, if we can.

  1. Ability to repair instead of buying new.

And then the fourth rule could be about the ability to upgrade the hardware.

  1. Ability to upgrade (some) components*.

Rules summarized:

  1. Bought with the intention of owning it.
  2. Doesn’t require anything extra in order to function.
  3. Ability to repair instead of buying new.
  4. Ability to upgrade (some) components*.

* is are optional rules.

Let’s continue on with another example, my 3D printer, an Ender 3 S1. This hardware relies on filament in order to function properly and I can buy the filament from whomever I want, I could even make filament myself if I had the right tools. I also need something to print and I can find models online for free and I’m also able to make something myself for free with open source solutions like FreeCAD. What about the ability repair it? I’m also able to do that myself to a certain point, if I need to do any soldering I would probably have someone do the repair for me, but if something else breaks like a cog or a rod I would be able to repair it myself. The same goes for upgrades, I’m able to do a lot myself. So this is the first example that doesn’t break any rules.

You may have noticed I’m not concluding with anything in my examples by saying that I own or don’t own the hardware in question and that’s simply because I’m not certain myself.

The point of this post was not to define ownership of my own stuff but to discuss both with myself and whomever reads this about who owns your hardware. I believe we need to be more conscious when we buy hardware (or just stuff in general) so that we don’t support business models that wants you to buy their stuff and use their subscription in order for their stuff to work. Some stuff we can’t buy without strings attached and I believe we should be able to.

What do you think?