Last month I interviewed Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh for this magazine about Sugru, her incredible new glue, which I am fairly sure will make her a millionaire before very long. But while we were sitting around her office kitchen table she also mentioned a project she's been involved with called Fixperts.
Fixperts connects designers, or anyone who is "good at thinking and making", with people who have a problem that needs fixing but don't know how to go about it. It is a lovely thing: videos on the website show how recent design graduate Florie helped Denise create a device that would help her put her earrings on despite a debilitating hand condition; while James made Foridha a new joystick for her wheelchair. Tiny interventions, big warm fuzzy feelings.
There's something refreshingly pure and straightforward about this: it's a couple of hours out of the day job, but it's a way to make an immediate difference by applying creative skills. It's all about being hands on these days: instead of designing mass-produced products for a faceless company and an affluent audience they'll never actually meet, creatives are hacking and crafting and fixing their way to a more rewarding future.
Fixperts is only one organisation solving problems on a micro scale. In London alone we also now have the London College of Fixing, the Good Life Centre (DIY workshops) and Assemble & Join (a community micro-manufacturing centre). What could be more perfect for a recession?
I was reminded of these organisations again when I went to a talk by Richard Sennett, who has just published a new book called Together, in which he argues that the most urgent challenge facing civil society today is the art of cooperation.
According to Sennett, living with people who differ — racially, ethnically, religiously or economically — is a skill that, despite our wired and wonderful society today, we are losing. Maybe it's actually because of all our social networking that it's easier than ever to avoid people we don't like or agree with. In the process we're forgetting how to listen to different points of view. Cooperation, says Sennett, is a skill to be learned, nurtured and developed. There are various tips in the book. Being comfortable with ambiguity and using the subjunctive tense more — "I would have thought" and not "I think" — is one idea.
"We don't have to find common cause to cooperate, but we do have to find ways to communicate and cooperate across divisions," says Sennett. Perhaps, then, in learning to work together to fix the small things, we could end up shaping a whole new ultra-cooperative society. Where's my tool kit?
Henrietta Thompson is an editorial consultant and curator, and editor-at-large at Wallpaper* magazine.
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