Friday, November 30, 2012

On boring, fixing, etc

Boring conference

Just finished reading this report from the 2012 Boring conference that was held in London recently. Apparently, this is held in November each year and delegates turn up to listen to ‘boring’ speeches and presentations. 

Why would people turn up at such a conference to listen to presentations on topics such as supermarket self-service check-outs,  post-boxes and “the confusing, non-regulated series of toaster settings on the market”?  Because people enjoy boring things.  Yes, banality has a certain appeal. 

I used to follow a blog post called “the dullest blog in the world” that, sadly, went quiet from July last year. Here are some samples:

“I had a towel in my hands. It was a bit damp. I hung it over the bannister so that it would dry off.”

“I saw that there was a small piece of rubbish on the ground. I stooped over and picked it up. Seeing a litter bin nearby I carried the item a short distance and deposited it in the bin.”

“I logged onto the internet in order to check my e-mails. I clicked the ’send and receive’ button and downloaded one or two messages. A minute or two later I logged off the internet.” 

The blog was tremendously popular and some of the posts received more than 200 comments. Boring stuff can be that appealing. 

If it’s broke, fix it. 

I remember the first suitcase I bought when I became a salesman. It took quite a beating as I travelled extensively every week by bus on bad roads. Every now and then a screw would unloosen or a hinge would get rusted or the cloth lining get torn. I simply had to take it to some roadside repairer and fix it by spending a few rupees. 

I used that suitcase for more than 10 years and abandoned it not because it was not good enough, but because I had by then progressed to travelling by air and felt compelled to buy one that was more stylish and elegant. None of the suitcases that I’ve bought after that has lasted that long, although I travel mostly by air and treat the luggage quite delicately. Also, if a zip gets stuck or a wheel drops off, it is quite painful to find a good repair shop. Might as well throw it off and buy a new one.

The ‘repair’ culture is slipping away, in any case. None of the devices are designed for durability and replacing them every few years is considered a better option as repair charges are often quite close to the cost of a new one. Mobile phones, washing machines, microwave ovens, etc fall in this category. At least, this is what we are led to believe.

I was happy to read about the “Fixer’s manifesto’ that’s been written by a designer. Some of the statements in that manifesto: 

“Fixing’ is the most beautiful form of creativity”

“A small clever tweak can improve how things work for years to come”.

“Resist trends and needless updates. Don’t be a passive consumer”

“If we double the life of a product, we send only half of them to the landfill every year”

Makes one think, doesn’t it?

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