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Where Have All the Repair Shops Gone?

Have we collectively decided that fixing things is no longer a necessary skill?

As a young white boy growing up in Harlem in the 90's loving anything and everything electronic, I spent a good chunk of time in repair shops. Unfortunately, these havens for strange and wondrous equipment have all gone the way of the buffalo. I didn't even realize it until my turntable started going all wonky. I thought "Hey, I'll just take it to a repair shop." Then I thought "Where might I find a repair shop? I haven't seen one recen-". It was at that exact moment that I realized that repair shops no longer existed, and simultaneously realized that God apparently hates awesome old men with glasses and weathered cardigans.

This may be a bold statement, but I genuinely believe that fixing things is no longer something that we, as a culture, believe in. Warranties have become extremely popular, but rarely does the company actually fix the broken item. They simply replace it. Have we come to respect the things we own so little that we don't even try to take care of them?

Why don't you love me?

I feel like all our stories about robots and computers going rogue are a reaction to this. It's like we've developed some sort of crazy guilt complex, knowing how horribly we've treated them and dreading their uprising. Well, spare me, objects of humanity's imminent destruction. I'd love to fix you rather than just throw you out. But other people don't agree.

There was a time not so long ago when a man's job was to be able to fix things. I know it sounds cheesy, but there was time when men worked with their hands, got dirty, and had at least a functional knowledge of the way things work. Now it seems that there are maybe twelve calluses, total, in the entirety of America's dwindling middle class. And ten of them are from guitar strings.

It may be a dated reference, but when I read that last paragraph again, I thought of the movie Wall-E. I'm not saying that its message wasn't just a touch heavy handed, and extremely hyperbolic. But I am saying that it does kinda have a point. We, as a society, make a ridiculous amount of garbage getting rid of things that are completely fixable, sometimes entirely functional. Because everything is replaceable. We no longer cherish the things we have. And the pile gets larger. It's constant, perpetual, and ever-growing. STOP.

Obligatory HAMMERTIME.

I saw what you were starting to do there. You thought I was going to tell you to stop throwing out stuff. You thought, just for a second, that I was one of those crazy environmentalist types that beat you within an inch of your life with a clipboard outside your local convenience store. Let's back up a sec. There's nothing wrong with a little waste. I love driving my car. A lot. I live in LA- I don't walk more than a mile unless my car is actively on fire. I eat the delicious dead flesh of creatures I freely admit I feel superior to. Hell, I don't even recycle all that often.

But throwing out your TV after a couple of years because of some dead pixels? Tossing the coffee table 'cause the edge splintered a bit? I had a friend who threw out his toaster just because the dial fell off. That's just negligent. I'm pretty sure there's a landfill full of red-ringed 360s Microsoft can't be bothered to fix, poisoning our earth with the massive amount of fail each one contains.

Wouldn't be the first time, Mr. Videogames Industry.  You best watch yourself.

So here is my point. The world only has so much square mileage. Eventually, we will discard enough to layer it completely. That doesn't seem like a good idea. So even if it's counter-intuitive, even if you already have a job doing something else that you are very good at, why don't you learn how to fix something? There are instructions for pretty much everything online. Learn how to reattach the dial to the toaster, or get rid of a virus on your computer. Hell, you could go really far and learn carpentry, or auto repair- nothing that'll dominate your free time, just something to occupy it productively.

Eventually, more people will know more useful things. We can, as a community, help one another make the things we spend our money on, and use every day, work again. It'll be like old times, where every town had someone with each of the skills they needed to survive. Well, every group of friends will have one carpenter, one electrician, one mechanic, etc. Doesn't that just seem like a nicer world to live in?

Maybe there will be no more kind, bespectacled old men — or we could become them — but one way or another our possessions will last long enough for us to develop the attachment we once had with them. The attachment that inspired the Brave Little Toaster. Of course, we'll still toss our iPhone the moment the next one comes out, so we may never solve everything. We'll just bring ourselves a little closer to not drowning in our own rubbish, and maybe develop something we can feel proud of in the process. And a little is good enough for me.

 

TL:DR Repair shops are gone, stop throwing useful shit out, I'm not a hippie, now go learn to do something with your hands.

 

A special thanks to The Horn Connection in L.A. for letting me use a picture of their store for the header of this article, and all the repair shops that aren't around to thank in person today. Manny, you rock, and thank you for proving me wrong and existing. "If you have a broken horn, why not fix it at Manny's?  He exists!" (Not actually The Horn Connection's official tag line, but it should be.)