Hack #4: Repair

As Steven J. Jackson said, “breaking is generative and productive” (223). One example he gives is Edward Burtynsky’s Shipbreaking photography series. The collection brings into the light things are normally invisible to the world by showing the destruction of massive cargo ships. The photos deal head-on with the themes of breakdown, maintenance, and repair. These themes are usually thought to be mutually exclusive; they’re thought of as different points of an objects’ lifespan or different ways to combat brokenness. However, breakdown, maintenance, and repair can coincide. This is known as broken world thinking, where “breakdown, dissolution, and change, rather than innovation, development, or design as conventionally practiced and thought about are the key themes and problems facing new media and technology scholarship today” (Jackson 222). The video that I created for this hack seeks to demonstrate the importance of breakdown, dissolution, and change within the world of repair.

We live in a world that prides newness over longevity and quantity over quality. Planned obsolescence isn’t just something we dread, it’s something we accept as an expectation when we purchase most things, such as cars and cellphones. A lot of things aren’t worth repairing anymore after we no longer want to use them because the ability to fix has been taken out of our hands. Instead of spending $200 and multiple hours at the Apple store fixing a two-year-old phone, we’d rather wait for the newer iPhone to come out since it’ll run so much better than the “old” one anyways. Now, with the viral popularity of Marie Kondo’s tidying up methods, the idea of getting rid of whatever doesn’t “spark joy” in your life has become cool. With this mentality, an object that could still be useful can feel broken to us just because we no longer love it, so therefore we want to get rid of it. And although we wouldn’t want to admit this, we usually get rid of something in order to get something newer. We also can’t repair a lot of our own things, so fixing something requires outside help as well as money and time.  

My inspiration for this hack started with a Snapchat from my friend. She sent a video tearing apart a makeup sponge with the captions “bye sponge” and “so satisfying.” The sponge, an exorbitantly expensive piece of foam that has become a cult beauty favorite, made a loud sound when she ripped it. The caption about satisfaction was in reference to a public, user-generated collection of ASMR-style Snapchats where objects are manipulated in order to make sounds.

A lot of these ASMR videos are destruction-based, such as a popular style were soap is crushed, scraped, and chopped up. The resulting loud scratches and chinks are satisfying, even though perfectly good soap is being destroyed simply for the purpose of creating the sounds. My friend’s Snapchat was similar; she had a sponge that she no longer wanted (maybe she got a better one, maybe this one didn’t work well, etc.), but instead of just throwing it out she gave it a brief second life by ripping it apart and sharing it with her friends.

For the repair hack, I wanted to take things obsolete things and give them a second life. In this reuse, I would be repairing things that were essentially broken because they no longer served a purpose to their owner. For a week, I asked my friends to give me anything that they were throwing out because they didn’t want any more. The resulting stash was varied and surprisingly didn’t look like trash; a makeup palette that a friend couldn’t wear any more thanks to her suntan, a vase full of dead flowers that a friend didn’t want to bother with refilling, bracelets that a friend never wore, a phone cord that only worked if you held it in place. These things all still had some potential use left in them that wouldn’t be actualized because their owner didn’t care enough to keep them around anymore. This isn’t exclusive to my friends; most of us like to purge ourselves of what we don’t need or can’t see ourselves using in the near future.

The original objects

The new purpose of these objects would be in producing the sought-after tingles produced in some people by ASMR videos. Viewers watch these videos because they find them calming and satisfying. Often, they’re very simple and just show people chewing, whispering, tapping their nails against things, or other things that produce distinct sounds. They’re recorded with mics and meant to be watched with headphones; audio is key. Some people find ASMR off-putting and can’t listen to it, but others use it to fall asleep at night. I don’t get the tingles, but I still watch some ASMR because I find it satisfying. A lot of these videos, I’ve noticed, rely on some sort of desctruction: crunching soap, scraping out makeup, crushing things. The noises produced by breaking is understandable fodder for ASMR. The cracks, scrapes, falling noises are satisfying because they’re similar to other ASMR sounds (like chewing). They also allow us to experience something that we won’t actually do in real life: purposefully break things that could still be useful in their original capacity. This makes sense, as other people talked about in their hacks, wrecking and destruction can be a cathartic form of therapy.

Therefore, I repaired the objects donated by friends by taking things that were at the end of their lifespan due to obsoletion and giving them new purposes. I did a dynamic repair because this new purpose was different from the object’s original one. The breakdown of our objects is inevitable because nothing is permanent, but we don’t normally get to see this happen because we’re removed from it. Hiding this destruction allows us to remain blissfully ignorance of the waste and fragility in consumer culture. In my video, I made the breakdown visible by creating an entertainment spectacle. The objects had a new purpose, which was to break in a way that sounded satisfying.

I didn’t have fancy mic equipment, but I used the headphones that came with my phone to be able to record closer to the source. I also did some other things to amplify the sound, such as recording in slow motion or dropping onto hard plastic. I cut, crushed, scraped and more to break down the objects in satisfying and dynamic ways. I also subverted some of the stereotypes of ASMR; instead of steady and peaceful, my video is violent and jarring. Things can only be broken once, so after a few seconds of breaking one object, the video moves on to the next, which had to be broken in a new way from the last.

The aftermath

Our readings explained that repair can teach us by encouraging us to learn how the objects around us work. In addition, as Jackson points out, it is “precisely in moments of breakdown that we learn to see and engage our technologies in new and sometimes surprising ways” (230). I definitely learned things about the objects I broke. I was surprised how much force it took to break some things, such as Mardi Gras beads that seem like trash but are surprisingly solid. Parts of the glass vase were much stronger than others, such as the bottom, which I was unable to break. I got to look inside the objects I broke; I saw the individual wires that run within the plastic coating of a charging chord.

In this way, by destroying objects that had become obsolete I gave them a new life with two purposes: entertainment in the form of ASMR and education about the objects themselves.

Works Cited

Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair,” in Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot, eds. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society.  MIT Press: Cambridge MA, 2014.

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