On a war footing, cut off from an occupied continent and with long supply lines harassed by Nazi submarines, British people were urged not to buy new things. In the early 1940s, making do with what one has, mending it if ever it breaks, was the order of the day. Certain foods were in short supply (soldiers were given priority for what little there was of high-protein meat and eggs) or could scarcely be found anywhere (bananas and oranges). Could the past also be our future?
Today as the auto industry collapses worldwide with big-name car companies and their suppliers shedding jobs, the experience in Mexico is certainly one of 'mend'. Small workshops where skilled mechanics can repair broken parts – ones that would otherwise need to be bought new from Germany, Japan or the USA – are booming as customers tighten their belts. If this trend continues and spreads we may see the return of electrical repair shops, which have all but disappeared from first world malls over the past decades. For those with the right skills, crisis does indeed equate to opportunity.
In wartime Britain all manner of ingenious recipes were concocted to make rationed food more interesting and studies have shown that the diet of that generation was in many ways healthier than today's. In the future, with long supply lines for Chinese white goods, Argentinian beef and Caribbean fruit hampered by a shortage of fuel for the boats and planes bringing them, Britons and others may once again be asked to make do and mend. Foreseeing the problem, some are already doing it. If it ends up making us more healthy, will that be such a bad thing? And, who knows, it may even stimulate a revival in the legendary community spirit that some claim existed in the 1940s. Sharing a cup of sugar, lawnmower or automobile with neighbours may bring all of us closer together.
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Apr-17-2009)
Yes, I have heard of the intermediate technology idea. Another one I am familiar with is The Appropriate Technology Collaborative http://www.apptechdesign.org
Plastic things that snap in ones hands; mops and brooms that do not have interchangeable heads; components that cannot be repaired, only replaced: hopefully these will be designed out of our future.
Have you heard of the charity intermediate technology? Faced with problems in the remote parts of the Third World - tractors that arrive in aid shipments but, once broken, cannot be repaired by local people - the charity supports suitable and sustainable technology that solves local problems. I think it is British based and don't know if there is an American equivalent. I think there should be!
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Mar-31-2009)
Wow! I can't believe I missed this one. Thanks for the writeup, WH. The problem I see is that most of our tools and conveniences are now 'grown' in a factory instead of assembled from repairable parts. Much of our equipment needs to be downgraded to its useful components. Modern music players and phones can not be repaired any more than an apple can have a bite put back into it. I know. If I can't fix something, it can't be fixed. Many modern things have to be 'broken' in order to even get at the components. Something that needs to be eliminated on the factory floor is glue. Most plastics should also be eliminated and replaced with organic or metal components. The bailout of the auto companies should include a provision to standardize things like brake, wheel, tires, gears, bearings, and all mechanical interfaces between parts in order to minimize part inventories around the world. There should only be about 5 different sizes of tires, depending on the weight of the vehicle. Thinking like a 'repairable' society should be taught at the primary school level.
I lived in Britain for many years, where I studied politics and international relations and worked in the charity sector. Now I live in Mexico and juggle my time between bringing up a young son, writing science fiction, teaching English and engaging with the global community on-line. I want to learn more about the enormous changes we all face so we might make a peaceful transition to what is bound to be a very different society.