Mental health: iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens on mending a broken world

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“Things Come Apart” is the type of beautiful book that is meant to be on display. My late husband and I kept it on our coffee table after receiving it as a gift at the end of 2016.

I understand more than I want things to fall apart. In the years since my husband’s death in 2017, we have witnessed serious world events. Donald Trump was in power for four years, a presidency marked by turmoil, corruption and battles for the truth. Climate change has become an increasingly dangerous threat, as evidenced by record forest fires, floods and hurricanes. And, of course, we are in a global pandemic. Five years ago, we had never heard of Covid-19. Now the subject is impossible to avoid.

There are undoubtedly some positive things to note over the past few years, but sometimes they can be more difficult to identify. Recent history seems marked by division, uncertainty and fear.

That’s why I decided to revisit “Things Come Apart”. As I leafed through captivating photographs of disrepaired objects, I discovered that the book contained a handful of essays. Wiens’ contribution, “The Repair Revolution”, showed that life is full of problems to be solved, including repairing broken objects.

As I read his words, I thought about the damaged state of our world. Wiens’ advice was about physical objects, but I was wondering if it could apply to a larger goal – the systems and relationships around us that seem to be crumbling.

I called him. Here is what I learned.

Everything will eventually collapse

As consumers, we are often drawn to novel, novelty items. But Wiens tends to look at potential purchases from a different perspective. “I think, what’s going to go wrong?” he said.

“I have a little more cynical attitude, I guess,” Wiens explained. “Everything is going to break no matter how well built it is.”

Wiens’ point of view resonated with me as a person who has faced deep grief. Everything is impermanent – our lives and our possessions – and accept that impermanence is the key to resilience.
Psychologists say that recognizing how fragile existence is leads to embracing the present. It allows us to be more attentive and to better appreciate the present moment. This, too, applies to our physical possessions. By realizing that they will someday break, we are more likely to treat items with care.

“It’s existential for what life is, isn’t it?” Wiens thought. “If the force of the universe pushes and tears things apart, then our whole life – whatever we do – is trying to put things in order to reverse that entropy. I think that’s something we take for granted. . “

We should all feel empowered to fix things.

Fortunately, when things break, we have the ability to fix them. Many of us – myself included – have been conditioned to throw away our old appliances, furniture, or electronics when they aren’t functioning properly. Wiens, with his company iFixit, wants to change that.

An online repair community, iFixit is dedicated to restoring broken items. The site has a massive library of participatory repair manuals – at the time of publication there were nearly 77,000 free manuals available for almost 35,000 devices. Users can fix anything from a broken toaster or a faulty game console to a broken laptop or a car that won’t start.

Choosing to repair broken items instead of replacing them is a key step towards sustainability, Wiens said. “Every time you fix something, you put off having to make another one,” he explained.

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Of course, repairing some items is more difficult than others. Many manufacturers of devices like smartphones, laptops and wireless headphones have increasingly designed products that are difficult to repair without specialized equipment or access to authorized repair shops. Not only is it expensive for consumers, it is also bad for the environment.

In recent years, there has been a growing global effort, known as the “Right to Repair” movement, to push these manufacturers to make repairs easier and more accessible. Recently, this movement has been strongly stimulated by US President Joe Biden.

Biden issued an executive order in July to promote competition in the U.S. economy, which includes a provision that orders the Federal Trade Commission to issue rules preventing manufacturers from placing restrictions on DIY repairs and workshops. repair of independent devices.

Wiens is encouraged by this progress. “We’ve been talking about it for decades,” he said. “Finally, we’re starting to see some attention.”

Like a real practical guy, he added, “We just have to turn this into tangible action.”

What can we do? Anything

I didn’t expect to receive philosophical advice from someone better known for mending broken items, but there are a lot of things I couldn’t predict about these times we live in. Considering how broken the world has been feeling lately, someone who has built their career on fixing things may be the perfect source of advice.

“We’re in a fragmented and fractured society right now, and people tend to throw their arms around and say we can’t fix anything,” Wiens said.

He doesn’t buy that mindset. Wiens said one approach to feeling more capable of problem solving is to start with “something tangible and practical in your life,” like, say, a broken vacuum cleaner.

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His company currently has repair guides for 41 different brands of vacuum cleaners, the first device Wiens remembers repairing alongside his handyman grandfather. Today, with the help of iFixit, users can learn how to replace the power button on a Bissell pet hair eraser or repair the motor on a Ryobi VC120.

What you choose to repair does not matter as much as the act of repair itself. “We really believe that repair has the opportunity to bring people together and create a model of success that can be modeled elsewhere,” said Wiens.

Again, this approach has benefits for mental health. Repairing tangible objects requires absorption into the task at hand, also known as “flow,” which psychologists associate with happiness. Likewise, researchers have found that doing something to help solve a bigger problem, like donating to a charitable cause, activates regions of the brain associated with social connection, pleasure, and confidence.

Whether it’s fixing things or fixing broken systems, the most important thing is to get started, Wiens said. “People are so intimidated (to try to fix things),” he added. “But once you take the first screw out and get started, you’re going to be successful. Almost all the obstacles are in your head, so you’re scared to start.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kyle Wiens’ last name.

Katie Hawkins-Gaar is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. She writes a weekly newsletter called “My Sweet Dumb Brain”.


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