Nobody fixes their own shit any more. Your car ain’t running right? You take it to the dealer and he fixes it. Your iPod won’t turn on? Fuck it, buy a new one. There’s no room for stuff that doesn’t work right in today’s world, and if something breaks down, chances are it’ll be discarded and replaced rather than nursed back to health. I’ve been trying to fix up my old bike the last couple weeks, and I’m starting to see why this is. Every fucking effort I make is resisted at every turn by the infernal machine- nuts are seized, cables jammed, bearings are fucked up beyond belief. I don’t have any money, though, so replacement or professional repair is out of the question, and I toil on. The whole thing raised some questions, however- why has the modern human so little tolerance for wear and tear on his things?
I read a book recently that addresses this. In ‘The Case for Working with your Hands’, Matthew Crawford explores the effect of office work in an information economy on peoples’ aptitude for and interest in manual work, and asks repeatedly why his work as a motorcycle mechanic is so much more satisfying than his work leading a university think-tank. It’s a real interesting read, and one issue raised really connected with me- the author notes that fixing a machine not of your own design serves as a lesson in interacting with the wider world. The universe does not exist for your convenience, as it turns out, and it has patterns and machinations of its own. To get what you want from it, you must consider not only your self and your wishes, but how these figure in the world at large.
Mankind did not make it to the very top of the food chain by having a world that meekly submitted to its will straight off the bat. Man had to learn how to rub sticks to make fire, how to build shelters that would resist the weather, where to stab tigers to stop them from eating him. We are manipulators, and over the course of human history we have manipulated our environment to suit us as best we can. We’ve got so good at it that an illusion of control has developed whereby we start to think that the world around us does exist solely for our own bullshit and conforms to our every whim- the bike breaks, you can summon a new one within the hour. But you can’t magic away that sabre-tooth. When you sit down to fix your bike, think of it as jamming your spear between the bastard’s ribs; it’s nasty and messy, but that’s how the fucking world works. If I get down to it, my bike should be ready to ride by next weekend.