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The Future of Repair

The Future of Repair

By Tim Rohde

The “disposable society” is taking a well-deserved beating from more and more people these days. The scourge of our environment, our pocketbooks and our souls may be headed, itself, for the dustbin of history. The forces pushing back against the disposable society come from some familiar and some surprising origins. The ecological imperative has finally hit the mainstream. The “maker” and diy (do-it-yourself) movements are fostering a new enthusiasm for individuals to work with their hands. And several sites on the Internet have made it easier to find qualified repair professionals. All of this is converging with what appears to be a long-term need for average Americans to tighten their belts. While there are plenty of companies that have yet to catch on, repair is back and it’s here to stay.

Of all the long-term trends favoring repair over disposal, none is more compelling than the fate of the planet. Every year in the U.S., alone, over 200 million tons of trash go into landfills. Over 63 million computers are disposed of. Over 148 million functioning (or repairable) cell phones are dumped. Cameron Church of Conergy Deutschland GmbH once told me, “Remember, REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE are listed in order.” Repairing things indirectly reduces the need for new items and directly supports reuse. While the U.S. is doing an increasingly good job of recycling, the opportunities for keeping repairable items in service is only now being explored in earnest by the mainstream.

This mainstream is divided into two camps: those who are more likely to hire a repair professional and those who are more likely to do it themselves. The world of professional repair has been enjoying significant expansion and enrichment due to new Web resources that promote and critique various services. Resources like Angie’s List, Service Magic and Yelp have brought much needed light to the world of repair services. These sites provide the ability for consumers to publish feedback about their service experiences. While this may seem harsh at first, it rewards quality and excellence by weeding out service people who undermine the public’s trust, thus clearing the field for better service providers. This increases the likelihood that a consumer will get something effectively fixed and ready to continue providing value.

This type of improvement is a predictable outcome of the information efficiencies we’ve come to expect from the Internet. We can file this under business-growth-through-efficiency, but there is another kind of emergent growth happening that is both more surprising and more inspiring:  the do-it-yourselfer is back and has been transformed into part cultural icon, part helpful info source, part performer….

The leaders in mainstreaming do-it-yourself repair are found in the diy (do it yourself) movement. One of their favorite haunts is the FIX section of diy.com.  diy.com averages more that 150,000 unique visitors per month and is only one of many sites in the diy universe. Combine this with the 105,000 YouTube videos about repair and the 3,600,000 pages returned in a Google search of the term “diy repair” and you’ve got a whole lot of action around individuals repairing things. These resources run the gamut from highly informative and very ernest help to hilarious, don’t-try-this-at-home events. The common thread among these performances and articles is that something interesting comes from something broken or unused.

An even greater commitment to reuse (often through repurposing material) is found in the “maker movement.” Celeste Headlee’s succinct description of the maker movement says it best: “On a basic level, the movement is about reusing and repairing objects, rather than discarding them to buy more. On a deeper level, it’s also a philosophical idea about what ownership really is.” She goes on to paint the picture of this philosophy of ownership, namely – IF YOU CAN’T REPAIR SOMETHING, YOU DON’T REALLY OWN IT. The maker movement has a bill of rights which has caught the eye of several large industry players. It has a vibrant, interesting niche press lead by Make Magazine. It has Maker Faires that have now spread to every populated continent. They are celebrations of human ingenuity that honor some of the wildest artistic and engineering achievements executed with materials and objects that were discarded by the disposal-happy culture at large. These events are part science fair, part geekfest, part Burning Man… Note to world: this is not a fad.

Regardless of how much staying power and sustainability is built into the diy and maker movements, their impact on the future would likely be small, if not for the current economic decline. The ranks of committed diyers and makers has certainly swelled but, more importantly, the ranks of those who otherwise wouldn’t repair things has grown with the economic downturn. These new do-it-yourselfers search the Internet for answers and run into more than the Home Depot website. They find this new, vibrant culture that celebrates fixing things and making things. That convergence alone has the potential to reinvigorate the latent strains of self reliance and creativity that so strongly characterize the American past and deliver a new class of hands-on creators to the future.

Tim Rohde is Co-founder/Publisher & COO of the-future.com.

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

April 14, 2013 Founders' Messages 1 Comment

How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
that has such people in ‘t!

- Shakespeare’s The Tempest

In the final scene of the film Quest for Fire, after learning how to harness the power of the flame, the first futurist gazes toward the silvery glow of the moon, and then afar, to the stars in the heavens, as if to contemplate his place on Earth, and in the universe.

It was, perhaps, that first display of out-of-body awareness, that first reach beyond the self, that set humankind, relentlessly, on the path of progress.

What gave man that splinter of discontent, that compulsion to free himself from the shackles of Plato’s cave, to venture outward toward the light of better tomorrows?

It seems a singular trait of our species to always reach beyond our grasp, to consider other possibilities, to forever shatter the status quo.

What is it about us that compels our thoughts beyond today?

There are many views of the future, the most popular being that grand tomorrow we all dreamt of, as kids — that miraculous wonderland of scintillating sci-fi scenarios, that silver-mountain majesty of our wildest imaginations.

What ever happened to that future? Was it lost in the translation of dreams into reality?

Or, did we set course for a future so compelling that it would render science fiction a quaint remembrance of things past?

Could our wildest visions ignite the flames of our reality? …  divinely wild dreams that shape our ends, to paraphrase a writer ahead of his time?

There has been more technological innovation in the past 100 years, than in the previous 100,000.

Human evolution is progressing almost exponentially, paving the way for a future far more elevating than anything our electric dreams ever could have imagined.

And therein lies the mission of the-future.com —  to investigate, to spotlight, to predict, to contemplate the-future’s nexus, as it heats, as it percolates, as it Becomes.

To ask questions that place tomorrow in perspective: Is there a limit to technological evolution? Is human advancement unquenchable? Why weren’t we content to remain prisoners of the cave? To simply hunt and gather? Was the thirst for progress inbred – a divinely inspired need to make things better? And better… and then, better, again? Why does humankind seem destined to change its destiny?

We are living in a time in which the dogmatic restraints of ancient histories are clashing against the intrinsic longing for the hope and freedom of tomorrow.

It is an ironic juxtaposition that allows one of the world’s newest technologies to kick the sands of time in the face of one of the world’s most primitive and repressive regimes, proving that ideological luddites, while retaining the military might of oppression, are simply no force against the indomitable human will to evolve.

So, it is with a spirit of reverence for the most exalted promises of past and present that we launch the-future.com.

Because the-future is more than pulse weapons and ion propulsion and houses floating in the clouds. The-future is the panorama of our hopes, our dreams, our fears, and… our mistakes.

The-future doesn’t begin in some distant time, separated from us by eons, or millennia, or centuries, or decades… or years/months/days/hours… or even minutes.

The-future begins at the end of this sentence, inexorably linked… to NOW.

Arthur G. Insana
Co-founder/Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

Never Underestimate the Power of Tomorrow

Bill Gates said, “People always overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10.” While I half expect a letter from some poor Xerox PARC guy challenging the provenance of that statement, the truth of its content is undeniable. In the immediate rush of the present we can sometimes lose sight of the futuristic miracles emerging right before our eyes. Those 10-year cycles are coming to fruition every day and continuing on to create the miracles of the next 10 years.

There is a spot at the Boeing Museum in Seattle where you can stand between a P51 engine from the mid ’40s (capable of pulling a P51 up to 400 miles per hour) and look across the room at an SR71 engine from the early ’60s (capable of pushing the SR71 to more than 2000 miles per hour). Young men who flew P51s in combat scratched the edge of outer space at Mach 3 before their kids were out of high school. Less than 10 years later, they watched men walk on the moon.

In 1976, a bus shaped like the Space Shuttle arrived at my school. That day I watched a lady hold one of those famous shuttle tiles in her hand while she fired a jeweler’s torch at it for three minutes. I was the kid who got to come out of the audience and touch that piece of the future and find that it was hardly warm. The heat was directly converted into light and radiated away. Today, I have a dental crown made of that same material. I watched on a screen as artificial intelligence was used to render a 3D model of my tooth and guess VERY CLOSELY at the shape of my crown. After the dentist made some adjustments within the virtual world mapped from my molar, a robotic mill the size of a laser printer carved my crown from a billet of space history.

A couple of years ago, scientists in Copenhagen “teleported” billions of atoms about 18 inches, using quantum entanglement. An array of 122 lasers in Livermore, California, might soon ignite a pellet of Deuterium and usher in the age of nuclear fusion. While you read this, an artificial intelligence-enabled robotic scientist named Adam is formulating hypotheses, designing and running experiments, analyzing data and deciding which experiments to run next. I can’t help but anticipate the sudden roaring success of all this. I expect it all to be ready to industrialize and be delivered to my door by next fall.

Yes, I’m overestimating what can be done in one year. Are we all underestimating what can be done in 10?

Timothy Rohde

Co-founder/Publisher & COO

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Founders' Messages

The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be

April 14, 2013

How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
that has such people in ‘t!
- Shakespeare’s The Tempest
In the final scene of the film Quest for Fire, after learning how to harness the power of the flame, the first futurist gazes toward the silvery glow of the moon, and then afar, to the stars in the heavens, as [...]

Never Underestimate the Power of Tomorrow

April 14, 2013

Bill Gates said, “People always overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10.” While I half expect a letter from some poor Xerox PARC guy challenging the provenance of that statement, the truth of its content is undeniable. In the immediate rush of the present we can [...]


Earth Pledge Launches Eco-Friendly Textile Library

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Earth Pledge Launches Eco-Friendly Textile Library

The Earth Pledge FutureFashion Textile Library online is the go-to source for eco-friendly fabrics.  They promote renewable, reusable and nonpolluting materials and processes at every step of the supply chain and work to assist designers and brands in their sourcing.  Since 2004, They’ve connected designers and suppliers in the sustainable design process, and have encouraged [...]