Future Living

Fixers are the new makers

By Molly Flatt 28 April 2017

It's hammer time.

This week, two of my most treasured possessions broke.

The first is my trusty old iPhone 5, which evidently decided that it’s been way too long since I paid my half-a-grand tithe to Apple, and is now smugly blocking my every digital movement with a ‘storage almost full!’ shriek.

The second is my daughter’s V-Tech Baby First Steps Walker: a primary-coloured chunk of flashing, mooing plastic that has inexplicably and maliciously powered down.

However contemptuously Missy stares at me, and however intense my need to check WhatsApp becomes, I know I am helpless to fix either epic fail.

Apple’s devices are famously manufactured with screws incompatible with any screwdriver on the market, and even if I did manage to open up the V-Tech, I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with the circuitry inside.

The unexpected entropy double-whammy has made me feel suddenly and profoundly powerless. It seems to embody my sense of impotence about the world at large.

This is nothing less than technological terrorism in my living room, and I’m paralysed in the face of it. 

The throw away generation

But then, in my defence, I am part of a generation that worships either unfixable or disposable things.

“What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves replacing an entire system because some minute component has failed,” writes the political philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Matthew Crawford in his modern classic Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.

A teenage geek, I was too busy producing sci-fi fanzines to be a part of the early-noughties’ maker movement, however much I now wish I had been a bedroom coder or steampunk engineer.

It’s especially sad because fixing is in my family; my grandfather was a jeweller, clock repairer, optical engineer and inveterate tinkerer; my grandmother worked in service, so could fix anything from clothes to cakes.

I grew up in an eighteenth-century house which was continually in the process of falling apart, so my parents spent their every spare minute fixing one decaying cranny after the next.

My ancestors took fixing in their stride, but for me, it has become a specialised and outsourced skillset.

Modern living madness

Perhaps because of that crumbling childhood crib, my adult home is a tiny flat in in zone one London with a 24-hour concierge.

Everything nearly always works and when it doesn’t, I can text one of the maintenance guys on my way out of the door and have it sorted by the time I get back.

I rent my cars from ZipCar, my music from Spotify, my box sets from Netflix; nothing to break there.

If my clothes need mending, I pop them in a locker in the basement, text Laundry Republic, and they text me when they’re perfect again.

This used to feel liberating, modern, clean, calm  – the opposite of all those damaged, fragile memory-laden and emotionally-fraught objects that I grew up amongst.

But I’m starting to wonder whether it might be time for me to learn to fix, instead of rent or throw.

Just out of reach

Right now the world is full of brokenness, but not a lot of fix.

With Brexit and Trump, society currently feels like an obsolete iPhone 5: we don’t want to see it tumble into landfill, but we believe that the tools that will allow us to get under the hood and perform an upgrade are the sole preserve of a few rich men in a distant lab.

Mending is the new making

“When seams fray or cracks start to appear on the things I love, I don’t give up on them. I get fixing,” says Daianna Karaian, the founder of Thoughtful, an agency and quarterly online magazine for ‘thoughtful, creative people who want to change the world’.

“It’s a philosophy that goes beyond clothes and crockery. Seeing so much of our social, economic and political fabric falling apart, I decided to dedicate the latest issue of Thoughtful to mending, repairing and improving things that are broken, forgotten or neglected. It seems to have struck a chord.

“Fixing, you could say, is the new making.”

The most popular articles from Thoughtful’s Fix issue include an exploration of Japanese crafting, a portrait of a relationship breakup and an illustrated story about a rescue dog.

Karaian also hosted a kintsugi workshop, where people could learn the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold.

“Tickets sold out way ahead of time. There’s a real desire to patch things up rather than throwing them out and starting over, and a willingness to highlight our fractures and scars instead of trying to hide them.”

Fixing this mess

I’m still helpless to mend my phone or my kid’s toy, and I certainly can’t save the world.

But learning how to fix small things with my own two hands seems a good way to start regaining a sense of real connection with the planet – not to mention the qualities of attention, patience, perseverance, empowerment and self-respect, all of which are the sort of virtues that are going to help us get out of this mess.

This week is London Craft Week, an annual event that showcases exceptional craftsmanship across the capital, from hidden workshops to celebrated masters. I’m going to dip in a toe.

And next time I have a moth-eaten shirt or a warm fridge, I’m going to try iFixit, the crowdsourced repairs forum, before calling a handyman. I’m also browsing the hundreds of life hacks on Pinterest, and booking a couple of events at UCL’s Institute of Making.

In other words, my friends, when you feel that twinge of existential despair: it’s hammer time.