The fueling of our society as consumers (as in ’consumed by fire’) was always linked to Built In or Planned Obsolescence which was linked to the ‘consume more’ economic cycle. It originally had a very worthy intention as expressed in a 1932 pamphlet by Russian–American real estate broker Bernard London entitled-
‘Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence’
His ideas may have been well intentioned but by today’s standards, his future is of a dystopia worthy of being turned into a Hollywood movie in the style of ‘28 Days Later’ and ‘Soylent Green’.
‘I maintain that taxes should be levied on the people who are retarding progress and preventing business from functioning normally, rather than as at present on those who are cooperating and promoting progress. Therefore I propose that when a person continues to possess and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally “dead.” He could not deny that he does not posses such goods, as he might hide his income to avoid paying an income tax, because they are material things, with their date of manufacture known.‘
It didn’t happen by law, but instead, the advertisers did what the governments didn’t have to and we have been seduced into the same actions- throwing stuff away.
London was expressing a desire to end poverty, by ending unemployment – he wasn’t envisioning a sea of plastic and a landfill of old fridges.
Now, as we reach ‘peak stuff’ and our homes become clogged with objects, we can survey our embarrassment of clutter, learn to let go of that compulsive acquisition and come round to a shame-free attitude to being a Fixpert.
The current call to consider what it means to extend the life of something is not associated to the thriftiness of World War II, which although due to trade embargos resulting in material shortages,and was spurred on and encouraged to instill a sense of pride and nationalist spirit.
Our current obsession with ‘Upcycling’ has less to do with scarcity but more to do with consumption fatigue linked with a desire to regain a physical connection with our stuff that is inherent in handmade and repurposed items.
With virtually no support from school learning, a generation of willing but untrained people launch themselves into craft activities with a passion and naive enthusiasm that is a delight to behold. It is this ‘Have a go’ attitude that has restored knitting from its near extinction to be new, vibrant and creative.
Knitting shops of my youth were austere sanctums run by scary women who held court at a counter behind which crackly cellophane bags obscured balls of mysterious yarns, that could not be handled, but could only be brought forth by using accurate and obscure wording – ‘5 Ounces of wool four-ply in Maroon please’.
Now, pubs, cafes and yes- tactile, friendly colourful knitting shops are hosting support groups to help teach to each other and have fun. Knitting is Back.
Repairing around the house is harder to learn down the pub and for good reason, people are loath to learn where the electric cables may be by heading into their walls with a metal drill bit. This is why we resentfully employ a handyman and then watch him do something we can see is straightforward.
We have to pay for his prior knowledge, even though the term ‘Handyman’ has been linked with a view that the person is ‘less than qualified’ and someone who ‘botches’ a job. Its unfortunate that the Bodgers, a skilled part of the ancient chair making craft, have become confused with ‘botching’- the act of doing something badly.
A good handyman is, however, incredibly knowledgeable on all types of house construction, able to carry everything he needs with him and not resort to nearby machinery. He can think sideways to provide a solution to a problem he/she didn’t cause within a small time frame and on budget.
I call it MacGyver mind. Those people unlucky enough to have missed this eighties TV secret agent had better catch up.
The more we elevate lateral problem solving ability as being a characteristic of a well rounded person, the quicker the recent association with mending being a resource of the poor will recede.
Fixperts are quick, nimble resourceful, artful and clever. Everything we all want to be. Bodging is an intelligent, creative and economical response to a situation that needs attention.
We don’t mend things because we can’t get new things. We mend things because we can.
For more of that 1932 call to junk stuff by law see here.