Participatory repair as an alternative to the throw-away society

The past couple of weeks have been really busy for us: we took part, presented and/or repaired things at a lot of inspiring events, such as the monthly ICT4D London Group, the Cause Meets Tech, the launch of The Great Recovery, Good for Nothing‘s social, the Transition Belsize Green Fair, the Repair Café at Goodlife Centre and the Transition Brixton monthly skill-sharing evening.

It’s been exciting and very powerful to learn more about people’s perceptions about repair and their frustrations when the products they own break. But perhaps the most interesting insight is that so many people actually care. So many people want to take part in Restart and to learn together how to make a difference. When we started this journey, we thought that repair was out of fashion. We couldn’t have predicted that so many people are actually interested in self-repair, in learning how to become a bit more independent and taking direct action. Instead, what we see more and more is real citizens desiring to regain control of the things they own, whether by learning how to manage their laptop better, so that it doesn’t become slow and unresponsive, or by learning how to keep their printers clean and make them last longer.

Many of the electronics products in our life are designed to fail well before our needs change. The world of eco-design and the circular economy try to tackle this with greener materials and products easier to dismantle and recycle. However, more and more people of all ages, women and men, are tired of planned obsolescence and unsatisfied with manufacturers’ practices. Amateur repairers contact us because they can’t stand things being wasted and recycled “responsibly” when they could have been repaired and reused time and again. Active citizens coming to our events want an alternative to the throw-away culture we’re constantly brainwashed with, and they’re hungry for skills to counter manufacturers’ decisions.

Sometimes they are driven by the attachment to a specific device, what some refer to as the “teddy bear” effect. Others don’t accept that a printer should be recycled just because a tiny piece of rubber broke. Some people are hit by the recession and simply can no longer afford to upgrade: they need to make the most of what they already have. Just as importantly, many of the faults people ask us to help them with have little to do with upgrading and more to do with improving users’ skills: learning more about managing a smartphone in order to reduce its battery consumption, learn how to backup your data and clean your (proprietary) operating system from software slowing it down for the wrong reason. In all of these cases, what we need is new models for sharing our skills, helping each other and becoming our communities more resilient.

Whenever we repair something or reinstall a software in public, we are happy to see participants taking notes, asking questions, starting to share resources and tips, jointly learning and taking home a message of hope. “Restarters” are not only people with high-level technical skills. Everyone can be a Restart participant and contribute to a global reskilling, because we all know something that can be of help to others: whether that app should be avoided because it uses too much battery power, or that professional repairer is trustworthy.

We might not be able to fix everything brought to us at a Restart Party, but we know we succeeded when participants go home with a smile, because they no longer fear technology and from now on will do whatever it takes to fight the prospect of electronic waste.

While we are working on increasing the impact of our work, we look forward to more of these interactions in the next two weeks: check our calendar for upcoming Restart Parties all over London.

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2 thoughts on “Participatory repair as an alternative to the throw-away society

  1. with regard to the rubber wheel – perhaps befriend some vintage hi fi enthusiasts who like analogue playback and recording equipment and restore such equipment. Many already remake a lot of these wheels for gramophone turntables, tape recorders and the like.

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