On Fixing Things
In our quest for better and more efficient everything, I think we’ve lost something that is an integral part of being human along the way. Technology, specifically the evolution of the computer chip both in size and durability, plus mandates from politicians embracing the technology as a cure all for everything, has exacerbated the problem
When I was a kid I remember going to my grandfathers office and seeing the “computer room”. What we might think of now as a multi-station office, was then a computer the size of a room. Move ahead fifty years and most things that move or perform a function are in some way computer controlled.
You may think I’m coming at this from an anti technology point of view. I’m not. There are a lot of pros for making things more reliable and efficient, but we’ve lost something intrinsic to us — how to fix things. I love my laptop and flat screen TV, but I never was able to repair that stuff anyway. After a recent battle with my Keurig coffee maker, I wonder if we’ve gone too far. In most cases the smaller appliances aren’t worth the hassle or expense to get fixed and thrown out. Disposable appliances is kind of an oxymoron. I should be able to fix my toaster, not need specialized star bit to open it.
For every car I owned until around 2000, I had a Chiltons repair guide. All size engines, from lawnmowers to boat outboards, used to come with schematic blowups and wiring diagrams. With a little help from these you could fix almost anything. Now instead of showing how to adjust the valves and carburetor, which have both been lost to computers, there are warnings not to drink the contents of the battery. I never did figure out how to rebuild a carburetor, but I’ve changed plenty of water pumps, radiators, hoses, belts, alternators, and clutches. It was nice to know that even if you didn’t have the tools or ability to actually fix something — you could.
If not you could usually MacGyver it. Originally a proper noun for the name of the star of the show, MacGyver became a verb which originated in a pre-computer chip world. Cars, trucks, and boats were not nearly as reliable then. I would generally say a prayer before a long trip, But, I do remember, the more than a few times, that when I did breakdown, I fixed it myself. Self-reliance meant more than knowing how to make an online appointment for your vehicles next service.
The reason we’ve done all this is because we can, and are now required to in many cases — because we can. Unfortunately the unintended consequence of our quest for reliability and efficiency is that we’ve lost a basic human skill.