When did we stop fixing and repairing things when they broke? It is not that long ago that you could get things repaired by a tradesman or you did yourself because you understood how something worked and had the skills to fix it. Things were also made to be fixed if they broke. Today, however, we seem to make things that have built in redundancy – in other words they are designed to have a limited life. This is a relatively recent way of doing things – probably since the mid -1980s and since then it is almost considered to be eccentric to want to fix things.
In recent years the “maker movement” appeared and suddenly making and fixing things has started to become fashionable again. The internet, through associated blogs to develop communities that are now worldwide, centred on sharing, through tutorials, kits, events and maker spaces.
A key factor here is the sharing community; you don’t have to be a technologist or an entrepreneur to be involved. Much of the movement is around people adapting artefacts in their own contexts of use. The community will help, with “instruction” services on the Internet such as Instructables, tools such as Blender and SketchUp, and repositories such as Thingiverse. Fixperts even brings together makers with people who could benefit from their help.
It’s difficult to separate making and fixing. Fixing is less glamorous, even though it’s often how people gain their understanding of existing products, how they work and why they don’t. And it’s not always easy: many devices are designed to be difficult to take apart, let alone repair; for reasons ranging from safety to aesthetics to simple exploitation of consumers.
Perhaps there is still an opportunity for businesses to focus on consumers who want something that not only lasts, they can also fix it themselves. Consequently millions of dollars of electronics are scrapped every year. Reparability can address this e-waste problem by extending a product’s useful life and slowing down the rate of disposal.
If more of us understand how the systems of everyday life work — from technology to government — we will be empowered to change them, with confidence gained from tackling our own problems. This is where the wider sustainability impact could come: not just through making products that last longer, but through building our understanding and confidence to change the world for the better.