We’re currently doing some research to test some of ideas about fostering economies of repair, and we thought why not share some of what we found.
In this south London neighbourhood, like many, there are a number of mobile unlocking/repair/accessory places. Laptop repair is advertised in a couple of unexpected market stalls, storefronts or cyber cafés.
We talked to a handful of these, and all said they get business from passers-by and from word of mouth referrals – they said their clientele was diverse, all ages, all races, and interest in technology. We noticed that the more visible places had more customers and a diverse group at that.
Not one, even the more formal businesses on the spectrum, had a presence on the internet or used the internet to get referrals. Not even the guys fixing computers. (Or the person advertising this photo, who says “text me”.)
A quick glance at the businesses that appear prominently on a Google search in this neigbourhood reveals that there are number of “online only” IT repair guys, who offer to pick up computers and effectively have no store front operation. Some of these sites have reviews from satisfied customers – most do not. And none feature reviews from third party sites.
We wonder to what extent both sets of businesses cater to different groups – the person who only believes in what is visible “in real life”, as opposed to the person who seeks online. Our hunch is there is more potential crossover than might appear at the moment.
Both kinds of businesses seem very concerned with what one entrepreneur called “profile in the community”. The smaller and newer guys with a physical presence were keen for more promotion and new approaches.
And while Yelp! and a lively local bulletin board had some limited discussion of who is good for repair, there is not enough online about any given business (the online and the offline) for a potential customer to draw any conclusion.
This confirms some of our instincts for working on the Restart Project.
I definitely think giving these folk a more “legit” presence without sacrificing their “street level” ethos is essential – whilst having an umbrella organisation (even relatively informal like your project) which encourages basic standards of ethics and integrity. (Jestine in Malaysia also shows various business models for this which work – Malaysia is a commonwealth country not dissimilar to moderan multicultural England, especially modern London.)
I’ve long moved away from South London (born and bred) and have no reason or desire to go back there and here in Ipswich any such businesses are normally only trusted if run as a “legit” small business. anyone else doing stuff like this (other than groups of friends from a college/school environment) is viewed with suspicion.
This may seem “boring” but I can understand it – one concern of mine is that as many of the techies here come from overseas communities perhaps even fleeing bad political stuff – and where anonymity and less accountability to authorities is valued (whether from the business or customer side) they can *inadvertantly* be groomed into participating into the trafficking of actual stolen equipment (as opposed to far lesser crimes such as bending the rules of IP ownership when the victim is a large company andf the contact terms are unfair.)
sadly some of the “cheap” equipment may even have been obtained via burglary of dwelling houses or even violent robbery – muggers and thi/eves come in all shapes, sizes and colours and do not have “mugger” written on their forehead. Even middle class kids get sucked into this kind of bad stuff and not just when there are riots either, trafficking in nicked kit was rife in my uni days some 20 years ago and until comparatively recently on the music scene I still remain part of, due to a sense of entitlement amongst some of the youths involved. Thankfully its less prominent nowadays but perhaps only because of the now ending “good economic times”.
However, the TSG of Met Police do have “POLICE” prominently written on their baby blue baseball caps they use for “less harsh heavy ops” like shaking up a few geeks who haven’t been circumspect enough about their customer base for their small businesses, and enough bad news/bad publicity and pissed off victims understandably making crime reports having been relieved seems to result in a visit from these folk, as many of London’s foreign communities running “second hand shops” seem to have experienced over the years. Even relatively harmless eco-squats get targeted on warrants for stolen goods, and surely if there was 100% no chance of these things being near the social centres the coppers would not be able to get these warrants and/or could be told to jog on and made to look like fools for insinuating these crims?
or as as a “less extreme” ethical dilemma, what about the young lad who fixes the computer of a pretty girl who is a fashion student, and then thinks he has a sense of entitlement to the pictures of her modelling portfolio for free, and to share with all his mates? even if the girl is tastefully dressed and its not meant in a really sinister way its still a creepy thing to do, its also criminal like any ohter form of ID theft, yet sadly I know of a lot of lads (especially in the male dominated hacker “community”) who *would* chance it (and just like the other criminals they cannot and should not be profiled by race or culture, they could be from any background).
I know its a heavy burden to bear (especially as it could mean people from the techie community being put in uncomfortable situations) but I think forming a basic ethical framework will be an essential part of this – especially in diverse environments like London.
Ecosystems need their caretakers to discourage the weeds and help the good plants grow..