DIY repairers are fighting back against planned obsolescence

In the context of an economic and ecological crisis and after decades of planned obsolescence, fixing philosophy is gaining increasingly ground. More and more, fixing your bike, your printer or your coffee machine is becoming an ecological gesture like any other. And initiatives are burgeoning everywhere.

Did you know? The hacker movement didn’t start with a mischievous little IT genie, but with an MIT engineer who was just trying to repair his printer. Which turned out to be impossible, since the manufacturer had made the machine’s source code unavailable. The engineer in question, Richard Stallman, reacted to the situation by launching the « fixer » open source movement: objects and software programs you can log into for free to tinker with, modify or fix them. More than thirty years on, in the context of an economic and ecological crisis and after decades of planned obsolescence, this tinkering and fixing philosophy is gaining increasingly ground.

After the makers: the fixers

Photos from LaREcyclerie’s Instagram, Paris.

In Paris, the former train station of Porte de la Chapelle houses not only a restaurant (La REcyclerie) and an urban farm, but also a repair workshop for various objects. In the Bastille area, the Vélorution participatory workshop provides all kinds of tools and spare parts, as well as shrewd advice from the volunteers there. In Berlin, a similar workshop has been set up in the Prinzessinnengarten shared garden in the Keutzberg area. In Amsterdam, the very first Repair Cafe opened in 2009, and the movement has been expanding ever since to Belgium, Germany, France, the UK, the US, India and all the way to Japan. In Brooklyn, repair workshops are organized by the Fixer’s Collective. If the hacker ethic has already created the maker movement (people who make their own devices instead of buying them), it is now giving birth to its logical complement: the movement of those who repair stuff — who fix.

Prinzessinnengarten, a shared garden in Berlin. Photos via Instagram.

Moving into the circular economy age

It might seem obvious to the war generation who still darned their socks, but if it gathers the momentum we hope it will, the fixer movement could potentially create a real paradigm change. To quote Clive Thompson: “In the 20th century, US firms aggressively promoted planned obsolescence, designing things to break. Buying new was our patriotic duty: ‘We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing pace,’ wrote marketer Victor Lebow in 1955”. A sign of the times: planned obsolescence is now punishable by law in France. It must be said that the situation is urgent. In 2010, 2.4 million tons of electronic waste were produced in the US alone, of which only 27% was recycled. It is now crucial to learn how to repair things instead of throwing them away as soon as they break. This means moving out of the linear vision of consumption into the circular economy age.

What is circular economy?

An economy in which every discarded piece of junk is a resource, and in which objects are designed not to stop working and become impossible to repair, but to be reborn; an economy in which consumers learn how their products work and how to make them last longer.

As Professor Andrew Russell writes, “Capitalism excels in terms of innovation, but is failing at maintenance,” even though “a focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there?” In a word, we need to rethink our novelty-obsessed relationship with technology, and remember the saying: “All that glitters is not gold”.

By Usbek & Rica, originally written on Down To Earth’s blog.

Learn how Danone aims to build a circular economy for packaging here.