The slippery slope of the appliance militia
- Greg Marinovich
- 25 Jul 2012 01:22 (South Africa)
My digital life is chaotic: hard drives all over the place, copies of copies, and badly filed digi-data. Lost passwords and license numbers will be the ruin of me. And so, when I turn my head from the shimmering blue lights, I look for solace in things I can put my hands on.
Yes, yes, I admit it. I am, at heart, a Luddite. Perhaps a Neo-Luddite. That sounds a bit cooler, and I don’t have a beard.
Two festive seasons ago, our tumble dryer and dishwasher broke within hours of each other. Short of paying work, I convinced myself it was time for the Appliance Militia to be called up. My children (then six and four years old) were dead keen.
Within an hour the dishwasher was fixed. On a man-over-machine high, we plunged into the innards of the tumble dryer. This was quite tricky, and in fact, despite a full afternoon’s labour alongside my valiant assistants, we were a little stumped. Pieces of machinery and screws lay like fallen soldiers across the battlefield, as the sun set and a gloomy dusk crept over suburbia.
We trudged off for a meal and I plonked the motor with its broken fan cowling on the kitchen table... okay, I made that part up. Actually it lay on the kitchen floor, waiting for me to break a toe on it when stumbling about in the wee hours.
Who would make a part under stress from brittle plastic? Only some swine wanting my precious appliance to break just after the warrantee had lapsed. Luckily we found a local repair guy who worked in the happy season, but the cost of the part was almost the cost of the machine. The repairman managed to jury rig a fix with galvanised sheeting that worked.
The kids and I swiftly reassembled the machine. Okay, so it took a couple of re-dos to get all the parts lying in the yard utilised. Finally, we had it running, and threw in a load of wet washing. Triumphant high fives all round.
Hours passed, and the clothes were still damp. I tried redoing the wiring – still no heat, just spinning away. Groan. I loaded the thing into the back of the car and dropped it at the repairman’s place. Repairman with moustache said that sometimes, if a machine runs with a broken fan, the heater element or sensor goes. Of course it does. Our appliance survival-ism felt at an all-time low.
Forty-eight hours later: “Hello? Mr Marin..awitzsh?” struggled the appliance guy’s admin lady.
“It was your heater element. S.....g have spares; R1,150.”
“Umm, do you have a second-hand machine for sale?”
“Jus’ a sekkie.”
I waited. She gets back on the line, “Yes, R600.”
“Really? And it works?”
I fetched both the machines and brought them home. “A new one?” asked Luc, eyes alight.
“No, second-hand, but look, it’s exactly the same model as ours.”
“So, the old one is not working?”
“No, we’re keeping it for spares.”
“Can I take it apart, pleeez?”
There is, without doubt, a primordial urge to take things apart. Though, of course, the more evolved among the species also have an urge to put these things back together.
So when I read in that the Dutch had started a series of Repair Cafes where volunteer community members spend a few hours a month or so fixing things, from vacuum cleaners to irons, I was thrilled. At last, a fightback against the throwaway culture of modern life. The Netherlands has even put relatively serious money into ensuring these cafes have tools, coffee, biscuits – you know, the basics of life.
All kinds of people with a passion for tinkering wash down butter biscuits with a slurp of coffee as they bend over a wide range of household objects, fixing heirloom vacuum cleaners and non-steaming steam irons. What a great idea, whose time really has come. In the two and a half years since the first Repair Cafe started, they have spread across the Netherlands, and now even boast a Repair Bus.
Resist built-in or planned obsolescence, comrades, resist. Fight the waste makers.
In fact, the term planned obsolescence was coined and popularised by an American industrial designer called Brooks Stevens, in 1954. The concept spread rapidly throughout the industrialised world, and soon everything from tape recorders to motor vehicles to toys were all being designed to break. While the idea outrages me, some, especially those of the capitalist running dog bent, might say this is actually a good thing. It allows economies to grow, and gives space for new, perhaps better, technology to grow into.
This is based on the presumption that things just get better and better. That all advances in technology are positive. In some fields this may well be correct, but this economic model ensures people stay indebted in perpetuity, never able to pay off or get full value from an item before it is redundant or broken.
The objects of our increasing desires are debt traps, and add to Earth’s burden of litter and resource consumption.
Now, we all know some archaic piece of early electrical appliance or electronica that just keeps working. My mother-in-law has a National microwave that is now 31 years old and still works perfectly. It even has faux wood to make it look ‘friendlier’.
Volkswagen Beetles from the fifties are still running faithfully, with just a little TLC. Today’s designers would call that over-engineered. They would recommend ‘value engineering’, which is a more beguiling term. Can you imagine contemporary cars – which cost fortunes more than the modest Beetle and its competitors, still running fifty years on? Twenty? Doubt it.
Oh, did I tell you that I bought the kids a 1972 Citroen Club? Mind the car parts on the lawn when you come and visit. DM
- Marikana's Deep Throat: Charge Brigadier Malahlela, unravel police lies and deceit
- In the shadow of Marikana, a lost opportunity for justice
- Worth a thousand: Can a picture say too much?
- Reality vs manipulation: What indeed is true photojournalism?
- Trail of Revenge: A time capsule from 1995
- Makgabeng plateau: Will it be rock-paintings and platinum, or rock-paintings vs. platinum?
- The closing of the Marikana Commission: The Thin Blue Lie
- Marikana: Don’t touch Lonmin on its Bermuda
- In pictures: The People’s Climate March, New York
- Marikana Commission: Lonmin under a scorching spotlight
- Marikana: When comrades clash, it is the truth that suffers
- Marikana Commission: When ‘warning shots’ kill and wound
- Marikana massacre: The first of Lonmin’s voices are heard
- Marikana Commission: All for naught?
- Marikana Commission: Man and his truth – a story of the policeman who was not afraid
- Will Marikana’s Mr X be a game changer?
- Rape as spectacle, rape as genocide: Notes from Rwanda, 1995
- In photos: The prison of the Rwandan Génocidaires
- The Shell House Massacre: Another piece of the bloody puzzle emerges
- The Truth Elusive: Shell House massacre, 20 years later
- Farlam Commission: More Marikana massacre secrets and lies
- Marikana Commission: The long game reveals itself
- The law, poker and service delivery protests: Up close with Charles Nesson, Messianic US lawman
- Molhem Barakat: Death of a teenage lensman raises ethical concerns of war photography
- Makgabeng: Limpopo's ancient protest art
- Marikana, one year later: the hell above and below ground
- The truth, endangered: Miners' representatives withdraw from Farlam Commission
- As Farlam returns, the truth about the massacre remains a distant, perhaps impossible goal
- Africa’s photojournalists: The wars are not over
- Mandela & me: A journey of uncertainty and perception in the shadow of a legend
- NUM, AMCU, Marikana: ‘Tis the Season to be Bloody
- Thank you, Guptas
- Conflict of Interest, Inc: Mining unions' leaders were representing their members while in corporations' pay
- Chechnya, a story written in blood and tears
- Marikana Commission: Under oath, Phiyega’s bald-faced lie exposed
- A new week, a new town, a new police brutality video
- Marikana aftermath: As the Commission plays on, there's still no equality before the law
- Truth & lies: The saga of the Marikana massacre continues
- Bucket toilets: The lingering shame of Mangaung
- Sebokeng: The lessons of 1984
- Marikana: A cover-up for all to see
- Marikana: Police torturing their way to intimidation
- War: Cosatu vs Amplats strikers. Battlefield: Rustenburg.
- 25 October 2012: A day of reckoning at Marikana
- Alf Kumalo, Alfie, Bra Alf; an appreciation
- Marikana: After wave of arrests, miners to return to strike
- Friendship forged in the depths of the earth and strengthened by the horror of Marikana
- Marikana murders: The world now believes
- Marikana's Small Koppie: 14 dead, 300 metres away from Wonderkop. Why?
- The murder fields of Marikana. The cold murder fields of Marikana.
- Marikana: The investigation's integrity compromised as Small Koppie's crime scene defaced
- Marikana: Tide is turning against police as miners lay charge of torture
- Far away from murder fields of Marikana, a funeral
- Reporter's notebook: Wonderkop, Marikana, Friday 17th
- Beyond the chaos at Marikana: The search for the real issues
- Humanity on the march: Pity the Martian
- The slippery slope of the appliance militia
- Calligraffiti: eL Seed of an idea
- Love, sex and the fear of a small woman, Zanele Muholi
- TedxMogadishu and its spiritual predecessor, Elman the Electrician
- War photographer extraordinaire, departed
- Of family & the new iPad
- Joseph Kony, the world's Monster-in-Chief
- Journalists and conflict, a reflection
- My friend, Joao Silva, the best war photographer in the world