The ease with which younger generations navigate technology is often a source of wonder for older members of our society. How it is seemingly effortless for so many to book a holiday online, purchase goods online, connect with people on the other side of the world, or upload home videos to You Tube. I recall my own daughter competently changing the wallpaper on my iPhone at the age of two, without having been shown how to do so and before she was able to read (or even to use a toilet). There is something quite magical about the intuitive mastering of electronic gadgets.
But please don’t take this to mean that young people are cleverer or even better adapted to their surroundings. Evolution simply doesn’t happen that quickly. Just because someone can create sophisticated worlds in Minecraft does not mean they can build anything that is of use in the real world. Apparently seven out of ten young adults are unable to sew a button on, and darning a hole in a sock is unthinkable to most. The prevailing throwaway mentality due to low prices and high disposable income means that buying new is, for many, the preferred way to deal with damaged clothing. Similarly high proportions have never put oil in their car, fixed a leaking tap or rewired a plug.
In times gone by it was common practice to fix one’s own machines and appliances rather than call out a tradesman. This was partly born out of necessity, but also out of feasibility – appliances didn’t contain the electronic parts which restricted repair to the domain of experts. On top of this we are nowadays plagued by the marketing ploy of “planned obsolescence” in which appliances are designed with only a short lifespan in mind in order that replacements must regularly be purchased and profits increased. I think we are no longer surprised when we are told it would be cheaper to replace a washing machine than to repair it even if it is only five years old. It may be cheaper in terms of how much it will cost you, but you should stop to consider the real price. Production of a machine includes mining, refining and transporting the raw materials, building the appliance and transporting the finished product. Replacing rather than repairing such machines is much more energy-intensive, requires more raw materials and contributes enormously to the waste sent to landfill. I can refer the reader to “The Story of Stuff” for more information about this broken system from which it is difficult to escape. Fortunately there is a growing backlash against the consumerist mentality, by organisations such as iFixit with their manifesto “If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it” and who have developed a collection of repair manuals to deal with every breakage you could imagine.
But I would love to approach this problem from a different angle by harnessing such skills of the oldest members of our community before they are lost forever. I have heard so many anecdotes from those who rarely bought new but would fix what they had through a mixture of common sense and necessity. Those for whom reusing, repairing and refashioning were as natural as online shopping is for their grandchildren today. I would like to learn from this wisdom and make a permanent record of such skills before they are lost forever. I would like to compile instructions for mending and for making do in times when there wasn’t a specific gadget for every need. And moreover I would like to relate these skills in a personal context. To tell the stories of those senior members of our community and how a particular skill was invaluable at a certain time in their lives. Such a book may inspire people to have a go at mending or creating or refurbishing and thus reduce their need to keep buying. But more importantly it would preserve knowledge that may once again be essential at some point in the future. I see such a project as valuable to the teller, the reader, and our planet. If you would like to help me see this project through, please be in touch.