The march of the black boxes

darth vader by Flickr user trustypics

Used on a CC license by Flickr user trustypics

This post was originally published in Electronics Weekly in our new series called Unscrewed.

No doubt about it, tablets and mobiles are getting thinner and harder to open. More parts are glued, fused and soldered together, all in the pursuit of these sleek sealed gadgets.

We’re reminded of an anecdote about the late Steve Jobs, who supposedly took a poor engineer’s prototype of the first iPod, walked to the aquarium, and dropped it in. Air bubbles floated to the surface, and Jobs said “make it smaller”.

This obsession with sleek, thin, sealed black boxes has spread well beyond Apple, and well beyond handheld data-enabled devices.

Recently we’ve started to wonder: are we facing a whole new generation of electronics which even we cannot save during our three hour, fun and free community events? Continue reading

Restart Parties spread

People who love the idea of Restart Parties are helping to spread them from our original communities of Brixton and Camden. We’re quite thrilled to see the results of our September “Start your own Restart Party” workshop. Community repair is catching!

This month in London, two new events inspired by our Restart Parties will happen – one in Hackney (Nov. 16) hosted by Sustainable Hackney and Friends of the Earth Hackney and one in Camberwell (Nov. 24) at House Gallery.

Also this month is the first North American Restart Party, at Hackerspace Tampa, where they have added a great reuse and recycling component. The Restart Party has even made local headlines.

In our Facebook group to support Restart Party Hosts, we now have 37 people from 5 different countries sharing tips, getting our advice, and preparing to host events together. Continue reading

We are the “inner circle” of the circular economy

We were privileged to get a slot at TEDx Brixton in July and we thought we would try to  say something that has been on our minds for a while.

The global conversation for sustainability in manufacturing is shifting to the “circular economy”, like at Davos, where the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has promoted the concept and the opportunities for companies in this field. Up until now, the focus of the circular economy has been primarily on design products for easier disassembling and recycling – the outer circle – which implies creating a closed loop of materials and in the case of electronics, recovering metals in our gadgets.

This is something only feasible at scale, something the big companies can profit from. The mainstream activities of the outer circle of the circular economy – shredding and melting — are very energy intensive, and the jury is out about how efficient they are. But more importantly, this kind of “outer circle” is hard for people to relate to on a human scale.

The “inner circles” of repair and reuse seem to have been fairly mute in these public discussions on the “circular economy”. For us, these are the circles where we can approach a future economy on a human scale: making sure that the products we buy are more repairable, long-lasting by focusing on creating local opportunities flourish for repair, reuse and refurbishing. This is where we can transform our reality.

Continue reading

The most #ethicalmob

At The Restart Project, our favourite – and surprisingly uncommon – message is:

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We were amused to have dozens of friends and supporters sending us the Phonebloks video a few weeks ago. It is a very compelling concept for a modular, upgradeable mobile phone – inspired by Legos and very well communicated. It is a great idea, but it will remain a charming design fiction until a whole lot of things change in the electronics industry. Continue reading

Dear makers

A creative fix at Central Saint Martins

A creative fix at Central Saint Martins

We thought we would share some thoughts with you. We’ve spent a year heavily invested in building communities of repairers. During this time we’ve attended a few Makerfaires, admired your work on Instructables, supported your work on Kickstarter. And we look forward to meet many more makers at Makerfaires in Manchester this weekend and in Rome in Europe.

We noticed a couple of articles on fixing and making (most inspired by this piece in Wired), and we thought we might just go ahead and start a conversation between makers and fixers.

Making is a primal instinct – in some ways more primordial than fixing. Who doesn’t remember “making” with sticks and mud as a child, or with empty yogurt containers, used toilet paper rolls, shoe boxes, playdoh, rubber bands. We made cities, robots, space ships, animals. We made art and presents for each other. Utility was rarely our motivation. Joy and wonder seemed to drive childhood making.

Perhaps it’s so obvious it doesn’t need stating, but everybody was a maker until our rigid educational systems drubbed it out of some of us.

These systems taught us utility tied to growth – about being successful, being productive and that accumulating ever more and better stuff was the ultimate reflection of one’s worth. Now some of us did not ever really buy into this – some kept on dreaming, making and creating for the sake of it. And some of us were even able to convince others of the indirect “utility” of this, and were able to make a living off of this. Both of these groups might identify as “makers”.

Yet others found ourselves, perhaps in their late 20s, perhaps even later, scratching our heads wondering where our profound alienation with “stuff” came from.

Continue reading

Support us through Ebay-Patagonia auction

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been chosen to receive proceeds from the online auction connected to the launch of the Ebay and Patagonia Common Threads partnership in the UK.

Common threads

Common Threads is more than just an online storefront/collaboration between Ebay and Patagonia. It is an initiative that aims to boldly change the way we consume.

Participants do not just shop for second hand Patagonia clothes, they sign a pledge to really live the 4 Rs (Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle). Participants pledge to “wrest the full life out of every Patagonia product by buying used when I can, and selling what I no longer wear to keep it in circulation”.

Common Threads has successfully provided a marketplace for Patagonia clothes for reuse, via individual sellers, in the US since 2011 and now it is launching now in the UK.

For the launch, Ebay and Patagonia are sponsoring an auction, with some celebrity items – including a jacket worn by adventurer Ben Fogle – and we’re really excited to have been chosen as the only recipient of funds raised. Continue reading