Interview: Peter Mui and the FixIt Clinic

Peter Mui’s Fixit Clinic, is an incredible place where the team helps you make your appliances work, so you don’t have go buy a new one of whatever’s broken. You also learn valuable DIY skills.  I had the opportunity to talk with Peter about his mission and vision.
Why start Fixit Clinic? As a society, we need our population to be highly science and technology savvy. But while we're great consumers of gadgets that hasn't translated into a broader understanding of the underpinning technologies. People currently shy away from science and technology because it seems unapproachably complex. Fixit Clinic serves as an entry point that's accessible because it involves little snippets of technology that are seemingly familiar when working but are no longer functioning. How does this translate to the stuff we use every day? We hope that people become more empowered through disassembling their stuff.  Right now, people buy something and then it stops working and that’s that: they discard it. People feel like they have little or no control. Fixit Clinic offers a contradiction to that: its a supportive environment where people gain insight into how the technologies work that have become so integral to their day-to-day lives. We hope people leave the clinic thinking: “Wow, I took this thing apart and I fixed it!" or at least, "I learned more about it." That leads to greater personal empowerment -- as a consumer and hopefully, as a citizen too. Is America no longer a resourceful place? It's still resourceful, but the resourcefulness feels dormant. Fixit Clinic resonates because it's empowering to disassemble, diagnose, and repair things.  Personally, I don’t feel like I truly own something until I've taken it apart; I often disassemble things that aren't broken just to see what's inside. In my opinion, encouraging people to take a screwdriver to things when appropriate is crucial to a well-functioning democracy. Additionally, I believe the nature of paid employment has changed: the savvy worker in this millennium doesn't look to an employer for a job: the savvy worker has to have a set of ever-expanding skills that they're responsible for managing and maximizing the value of.  So it's about creating a mindset in the general population that is confident that it can learn, troubleshoot, and figure things out. Whats the most intriguing part of of the clinic? Children who are the impetus for their family attending Fixit Clinic.  Often, the parents have given up on the broken item and are ready to discard it, but it's the kids that are curious and motivated. Maybe they can’t afford to replace personal electronics or toys that are broken as readily, so they bring them to our clinic.  They're the ones driving the inquiry in the family, asking: “Can I afford to replace this? Why not understand what it's made of first? Maybe we can repair it.” What about what needs to be happen at the policy/government/industry level? The hope is that understanding how consumer products work will lead to a greater awareness of what was involved in creating them: the natural and human resources used, the design, engineering, and manufacturing tradeoffs, even the regulatory and governmental policy choices. We all about sustainability, conservation, the environment, etc., and as consumers we can "walk the talk" and exercise power through what we choose to consume.  I’m very hopeful because of the explosion in social media, from YouTube to Twitter to blogs, where an individual with a compelling message can reach a global audience.  For example, our conversation can lead to goods that are more serviceable. We can encourage manufacturers to adopt “cradle to grave ownership”of the goods they offer.  We can lobby our elected officials to mandate sustainable consumption.
What’s important to know about Fixit Clinic? That they're fun! People really enjoy disassembling things as a group activity, and there's an overall atmosphere of sharing and light heartedness.
What’s next? I'm exploring Fixit Clinic as a high school vocational educational program, encouraging strong student-community relationships. We held six Fixit Clinics in 2010 at various places in the East Bay and we hope to start holding them on a regular basis at Techliminal.  We're also looking to expand outside the San Francisco Bay Area: it looks like we'll be holding a Fixit Clinic at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts soon. Even if people can't make it to a Fixit Clinic, there are related options out there like the California Historical Radio Society's repair clinics and self-help resources like Instructables and Ifixit on the web.
Engage with the Fix It Clinic here: twitter: fixitclinic facebook: People can sign up for the Fixit Clinic email list here: