My roommate, who is German, came home from work one day and told me he had broken his shoe; the sole had fallen off while he was walking. They were the only nice pair of professional shoes he owned and he wore them to work every day. He went to a cobbler to try and get them repaired, but the cobbler had turned him away. So, he bought some glue and fixed them himself. Voila. He continues to wear those shoes at work every day.
It got me thinking about how many cobblers there were in London, which was something I noticed when I lived there. They were usually nestled in and around London Underground stations or squeezed into small shops in London City. And they always seemed to be doing a brisk business, including female customers getting heels re-affixed to pumps they pumped too hard.
I realized that in Europe, if your shoe breaks, you go to the cobbler to patch it up. The same is true in Africa, the only difference being the cobblers are often shop-less vendors sitting on the side of the road; that said, they are just as ready (indeed more so) to restore any shoe or flip-flop to wearable condition (and for small money).
This struck me, because as an American, my response to a shoe breaking was… go out and buy a new pair. Shoes and clothing are so cheap in the US (and have become cheaper over my lifetime), and there is such a mentality of consumption, that the “solution” to a broken shoe is replacement, not a repair. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” becomes “If it ain’t broke, don’t buy a new one.”
But even if an item isn’t broken, I feel it has become a habit in our culture to simply cycle through consumer goods – throwing away old items as soon as they show the slightest wear or obsolescence, and replacing them with newer, shinier versions. I realized I’ve become guilty of this myself. For example, before January, I had never even owned a smart phone; during all my years abroad, I got along just fine with my £5 Samsung phone. But when my brother gifted me an iPhone upon my arrival in the US (albeit one from 2010), it became my new standard.
But, I soon grew out of it. Using it on a daily basis, I began to get annoyed with its slow operating speed (surely due to the fact that it was 4 years old and several generations old). Sure, it worked. But it often froze up and I had to wait a long time for applications to load. So, I bought a new one. Well, by “new,” I mean a used Samsung Galaxy II that I bought on eBay for $114. But still, a new-er phone. I similarly upgraded my laptop, from the piece-of-shit $280 one I bought in January when I was unemployed, to a nicer one I’m using currently.
Next thing you know, I’ll want a new iPad, and a new Kindle, and by the time I’ve replaced all those things, it will be time for me to buy a newer phone and a newer computer again…