The usual catch-phrase for environmental responsibility is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." However, on Earth Day, in a small computer lab in University Village, Albany, a local group added "Repair" to the list. Toolbox open, my daughter grinned as she unscrewed the base of our long-broken vacuum cleaner. In a corner, two of my friends leaned over the disassembled guts of a malfunctioning laptop. Broken cameras, microwaves, and electronics filled the tables near their hopeful owners as tools were passed around and volunteers guided each project and offered advice.
The Fixit Clinic, a bi-monthly event organized and run by technologist Peter Mui, was founded in 2009 to help families gain the skills and confidence to fix things. Here, Peter won't just solve things for you. Instead, he shows participants how to evaluate problems, gather information online, and work logically to identify possible solutions. Any broken item small enough to carry is allowed, and parents are encouraged to bring their children. When I was young, I would sit with my father in our basement shop and help him fix things - toasters, clocks, whatever was broken. When it was obvious that our old phone was beyond repair, he let us kids take it apart. You really can't buy a better toy -- in the end we had it all in pieces, each of us claiming ownership of a different part. I still remember how the rubber button pad felt on my fingers, and how we hot-glued the circuit board to a #2 pencil to make an "electric pencil" gag gift.
Things are different now; it often just seems easier to throw old things away rather than figure out what is wrong with them or try to understand how they work. However, at the Earth Day Fixit Clinic, the final tally of landfill-rescued items included: a vacuum, two cameras, two microwaves, a CD player, a pair of headphones, and a hair dryer. With luck, those who attended will be more likely to try to fix things in their own at home the next time something breaks. And if the grins I saw at the clinic were any indication, they'll have fun doing it too.