Maintenance and Care: Notes

Notes on Shannon Mattern’s article Maintenance and Care.

  • rather than fixing the systems we have, we gravitate towards shiny new technology (i.e. autonomous vehicles and blockchain-based services)
  • importance in focusing on the act of maintenance, not creation
  • “what we really need to study is how the world gets put back together…the everyday work of maintenance, care taking, and repair.”
  • “Rethinking Repair”, Steven Jackson
  • “broken world thinking” – take into consider erosion, breakdown and decay rather than novelty, growth and progress
  • “To study maintenance is itself an act of maintenance. To fill in the gaps in this literature, to draw connections among different disciplines, is an act of repair or, simply, of taking care — connecting threads, mending holes, amplifying quiet voices.”
  •  The Maintainers blog
  • Fixers “know and see different things…” then designers or users.
  • “I’d say that if we want to better understand and apply maintenance as a corrective framework, we need to acknowledge traditions of women’s work, domestic and reproductive labor, and all acts of preservation and conservation, formal and informal.”
  • “avoid romanticizing maintenance and repair”

Rust: Urban Repair

  • you get a lot of press for a new project…you don’t get a lot press for maintaining
  • yet…the world is constantly being fixed and maintained all around us, every day
  • social infrastructures: caregivers, therapists, social workers. people who are “carers” as instruments of “urban kindness”
  • urban life is a giant system of repair and improvisation. developing regions also become offshore “back lots for wealthier nations”… like breaking up rusty ships and processing e-waste
  • “deferred maintenance” of public infrastructures as slow-motion disasters, which sustain the oppression of marginalized and undeserved populations

Dust: Spaces of Labor and Care

  • maintenance involves a wide spectrum of professional expertise: “preservation, material science, development, policy, insurance law, and building codes,” 
  • “maintenance those women had long been doing at home without compensation”
  •  Mierle Laderman Ukeles pioneered the genre of “Maintenance Art”: performing the mundanity of this exhausting work
  • “As they cooked, cleaned, and nannied for affluent families, they were often less available to care for their own.”
  • Example of disregarding those who maintain in the architectural design: house that Koolhaas designed for Lemoine

Cracks: Fixing Objects

  • “Yet the lifespan of an object also depends on context. While in the West a cracked screen can mean death; elsewhere, it opens up possibilities for reuse.”
  • objects, like architectures, open up the need and possibility of how they are taken care of
  • Iowa Sate launched a program in 1940s where students were required to “take apart and reassemble machinery in order to appreciate details of its construction, operation, and repair.” Also launched a program in 1929 for women so they could study household appliance maintenance – study how to upkeep domestic appliances.
  • smarter technology –> harder to break down and fix
  • “what happens to our broken laptops and Alexas?” –> we can still find old radios and film projectors at store but rarely do you see an iPhone that can be reused
  • “Scholars in various fields have turned their attention to “discard studies,” including flows of electronic waste.”
  • “While Western media has commonly portrayed Ghana as a node in the “shadowy industry” of e-waste disposal, Burrell sees the country and its diasporic communities as networks of entrepreneurial refurbishment and secondhand trade, where workers have opportunities to develop technical skills.”
  • If those machines have lived out their second life –> move to city where scrap collectors, processors, traders decompose the parts
  • This “ecosystem of distribution, repair, and disposal” is, Burrell argues, a “fact of life in everyday places marked by scarcity.”
  • Mend rather than discard their own broken things!
  • “teach[es] us something about material ordering processes, about the ordinary life of … objects, and about the role of the people in charge of them.” Damage to a seemingly fixed object like a subway sign reminds us that the world is fragile and that we all bear some responsibility for attending to it. We participate in systems of distributed maintenance. “
  • iFixit: wiki page of fixing it strategies and instructions!
  • “So we need to be aware of how these stories of maintenance traverse geographies and scales, and take care in mining them for ethnographic insight, morality tales, aesthetic inspiration, and design solutions.”

Corruption: Cleaning Code and Data

  • “Many manufacturers aim to keep their wares out of repair and remix economies, and they carefully control the evolutionary lifecycle of their products. “
  • “smart cities” – code now has a huge role in maintaining architectures and networked cities; most coders are actually fixing stuff
  • System administrators + content moderators: “Just like buildings and cities, most software applications and platforms and portals would break down quickly were it not for the maintenance workers who keep them in good working order.” this work is usually low-paying and psychologically disturbing –> they work to maintain a “clean” internet
  • maintaining the “cleanliness” of the internet is not unlike maintaining our ecosystem, cultural sites, buildings
  • “Data maintenance is particularly consequential in medicine, and thus caring for medical sites, objects, communities, and data has been recognized as an important part of caring for patients.”
  • “Across the many scales and dimensions of this problem, we are never far from three enduring truths: (1) Maintainers require care; (2) caregiving requires maintenance; and (3) the distinctions between these practices are shaped by race, gender, class, and other political, economic, and cultural forces. Who gets to organize the maintenance of infrastructure, and who then executes the work? Who gets cared for at home, and who does that tending and mending? Agreements about what things deserve repair — and what “good repair” entails — are always contingent and contextual. If we wish to better support the critical work performed by the world’s maintainers, we must recognize that maintenance encompasses a world of standards, tools, practices, and wisdom. Sometimes it deploys machine learning; other times, a mop.

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