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Earth Hardware Technology

The Dutch Repair Cafe Versus the Throwaway Society 368

circletimessquare writes "Everyone in the modern world has thrown away at least one thing that was perfectly good except for an easily fixed defect, because it's just easier to buy a new one. In the Netherlands, in the name of social cohesion, and with government and private foundation grants, there is a trend called the Repair Cafe (Dutch). People bring in broken items: a skirt with a hole in it, an iron that no longer steams, and they fix each other's stuff and meet their neighbors. Now that's an idea worth keeping."
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The Dutch Repair Cafe Versus the Throwaway Society

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:34AM (#39966753)

    The US is mostly made up of crap-hole cities where you don't let your children oputside because of the gangs, stepford wives suburbs where the houses are so far from anything resembling a cafe or other public gathering place that you have to drive, or middle of nowhere farming comunities where the population is so low that only one cafe can exist and it's always full of "grandpa Simpson" types.

    That's why we're so antisocial.

  • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:39AM (#39966823) Homepage
    While I don't exchange services for automotive work (I do my own) I still help out my next door neighbor with some of his yard work (currently putting in a good retaining wall) and in exchange I get access to his phenomenal collection of tools. I have a lot, but things like spring compressors, professional scan tools (much more functionality than even a high end OBDII reader), gear pullers, compression tester, etc that I don't use very often but are essential for some repairs. I also like the things that people put out just after trash day with free signs on them that if they are still around the next trash day get hauled off. That is how I got my mower, snow blower, trimmer, and compressor. None of them worked when I found them but only required relatively minor fixes. The most complicated one was the snow blower as the carb needed a really good cleaning, new fuel hoses, the engine needed all new gaskets, and a new kill switch. The snow blower was $18 in parts to get working and was by far the most expensive. The mower and trimmer needed a carb cleaning, fuel hoses replaced, and new spark plugs. The compressor had a bad switch.
  • Not at all true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:43AM (#39966887)

    When American population just sits at home watching TV or playing video games, Europeans and especially Dutch tend to spend time together. Sit at cafes getting high, eat at a restaurant and have some fine wine, and socialize with people.

    I've lived in America and the Netherlands, Americans do that just as much as the Dutch. Go into any large city and visit bars and restaurants, you'll find them plenty crowded with people socializing.

    What is somewhat true is that the Dutch watch less TV, but they do other things around the house too.

    People in general are social and like to go out. People with families stay in more because it's harder to go out with children. That does not really change much across cultures.

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @10:49AM (#39966967)

    Cart leading the horse. They barrel into each other because they have the armor. If you want to reduce long term brain/body damage injuries to Football players you need to take away their pads.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bigby ( 659157 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @11:06AM (#39967167) []

    Try and fix certain electronics governed by the FCC. There are other things that are made less functional to conform to regulations.

    I fixed my custom DVR by delivering the feed over Component video and re-encoding it. I'm sure that's illegal too...

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @11:28AM (#39967399) Homepage Journal

    Because to repair an item, you would have to first reverse engineer the item to understand how it works. This is specifically prohibited by the DMCA, and you could face a civil lawsuit, criminal penalties and jail time/fines.

    In the USA it is ILLEGAL to understand how a product works. You're not allowed to fix stuff, only to consume, and obey.

    Remember what country you live in folks, we're just trying to protect you. Now, please strip naked so you can board the subway.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @11:52AM (#39967723) Homepage

    As a hobby, I repair old Teletype machines [], from the 1920s and 1930s. These machines were designed for a long life of nearly continuous operation and to be repairable. I have 70 and 80 year old machines running. Everything unscrews (and every screw has a lock nut), everything is interchangeable, and all parts can be reached without dismantling too much. The detailed repair manuals still exist. If one of these machines hasn't been seriously damaged and has all the parts, it's usually repairable. This is as good as it gets in repairability.

    The price of this is weight, bulk, and routine maintenance. The frame is cast steel. A printer weighs about 75 pounds, about twice the weight of an electric typewriter. There are over 500 oiling points to be oiled annually, plus about 50 points that require greasing. Every few years of operation, a full cleaning is required. This involves removing the two electrical parts, the motor and the selector electromagnet, and soaking the entire machine in solvent. Western Union did this to their machines routinely.

    Then there are adjustments. There are spring tensions and clearances to be adjusted. A spring scale and a feather gauge are required. After any part replacement, there are adjustments to be performed according to the manual.

    Nobody would put up with that bulk, weight, and maintenance today to get a machine capable of decades of operation. That is the price of repairability.

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @11:57AM (#39967825) Journal

    The talent or interest just isnt there in the US.

    Well, first, he probably didn't look very hard. There are plenty of people who will do things like that, the best way to find them in my experience is to call you local junkyards -- if they don't have someone, they'll know someone who'd be willing to do it.

    The other issue is that our labor costs are very high. This is what really drives the throw-it-away culture here. We buy things that are made with cheap overseas labor... which is why repairing them using costly local labor is not price-competitive, usually.

  • by mediocubano ( 801656 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @12:15PM (#39968083)
    This is partially true, but what it looks like is that nobody around here is "handy" any more. People just don't get the practice of tearing things apart and fixing them. I get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to fix things, but many people don't.

    I picked up a huge snowblower that my neighbor was throwing away (his answer? "duhhh doesn't work") and it just needed to have the carburetor cleaned out - total cost was about $10 in parts, and a couple of hours or my time. To top it all off I learned something. I also loved it because I had nothing to lose except some tinkering time - the thing was already broken, so if I made it more broken no big deal. However if I got it working then it was like winning the jackpot. (BTW the thing has enough power to throw snow across the street!)

    Other neighbors had a combo stereo that just didn't work. And they had no clue of what to do. Didn't power on, so I popped the cover off and found the fuse blown. One trip to the hardware store later and I now have a great garage stereo with CD changer and even a remote control!

    I could go on and on about my brother in law and his fixit dis-abilities, but maybe I'll save all of those "no common sense" stories for a book. (It has been a complete blast to fix things for my inlaws, they look at me like I'm some sort of magician or technological priest.)

    Maybe that's what the problem is, either people think their time is too valuable (thanks marketers), or they just don't feel like learning anything. All of this takes common sense and a thirst for knowledge, something that people seem to be really short on any more. They'd rather sit in front of the idiot box for hours, or piss away hours with angry birds.... it is just too easy.
  • Re:noooo... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:54PM (#39969709) Journal

    Only poor people would do that. Rich people don't pay taxes, they collect them.

    Poor people barter informally (and don't consider reporting it) and work for cash "under the table". They're rarely caught. Rich people have loopholes written for them. Only those in the middle have to pay. If a plumber barters for services an electrician, the IRS will never find out. If a lawyer does with his accountant, BAM!

    (I guess the distinction is more blue-collar verus white than poor versus middle; plenty of plumbers have more money than plenty of accountants)

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