As a younger version of myself – i spent my childhood taking things apart, modifying, fixing and “improving” them – many things it turns out weren’t actually broken – at least not before i started on them. In my twenties I travelled a lot and was always amazed by the ingenuity i saw in Asia – open up the hood of any Ambassador taxi in India and you’ll see its held together with a variety of home made improvements.
But how many times have you thrown something away without trying to fix it? Many people assume that once an item is broken it can never be fixed, or don’t even want to try and fix it. In the current economic climate people are thinking much more about the money they’re spending and realising that it is much more efficient to repair your broken items that throw them into landfill.
Well at last it seems there is a movement that is giving Hacking a good name as we see groups getting together across the UK looking to fix electronics, home appliances and saving them from landfill and needless destruction – but more than that also improving, adapting and modifying them to make them better.
In recent years the internet has become a tool to promote product hacking allowing its popularity to grow greatly. With hobbyists and designers posting their creation all over the web, it allows anyone to become a practising designer and encourages resourcefulness with old and new materials.
On-line communities such as Instructables are growing fast with thousands of step-by-step guides, helping people to save money by giving them simple and accessible ways of hacking everyday items into much more practical objects. All made by ordinary people who want to share their experiences of fixing and making to help others do the same.
These communities have also sprung up in local groups eager to help each other, and promote the practicalities of repair. In the UK there are currently Repair Cafe’s in London, Brighton and Malvern Hills. Having a local group that you can go to is always more appealing than struggling with a problem on your own. If you don’t have a group near you then consider starting one up, there are a few helpful tips on the Repair Cafe website.
It’s about gaining the confidence as a problem solver. Many people won’t attempt to fix something that’s broken because they don’t think they have the skills to. Giving people the power of creative confidence to repair not discard could have a massive social and economical impact for the future.
Hacking electronics can daunt a lot of people and consequently, as I said earlier they won’t have the confidence to go near anything electrical. Simon Monk has recently published a book making the basics of hacking electronics straightforward, and encouraging people to give it a go rather than buy new every time.
One great example of electronics hacking I found is a set of damaged speakers, shown above. So many of us I’m sure have an old set that we’re sure will come in use one day. This video demonstrates what can be done to make them not only work again, but also give them a new individual appearance that can be easily customised by the hacker.
There are also some inspired materials now available to help you hack your products back into a good working order; Sugru, is a silicone based material allows you to repair, adjust and hack virtually any product you want. From the simple repair of a plug as shown, to adding custom grips to your tools and cameras.
And its not just happening here in the Uk were seeing Fix-it groups across the UK, saving electronics from obsolescence, destruction and waste, as you can read about in this article by Wired magazine.
It seems that our throw away culture is perpetuated by the design of the products we buy- built in obsolescence, in accessible workings and a constant stream of unnecessary upgraded bigger/better products undermining our confidence in the things we already own. But hacking is here to stay- so what could save from landfill today?