By Paul M. Davis
As Abby Quillen recently covered on Shareable, co-ops have proven to be a successful model for communities of bicyclists around the nation who wish to pool their skills and resources. Equally intriguing is a new type of community co-operative, taking inspiration from the bike model, devoted to sharing computer repair skills and empowering users of all skill levels to fix and get the most out of their systems.
One of these co-ops is the Computer Kitchen, opened in May 2009 in Santa Cruz, CA. Sharing space with the town's venerable Bike Church co-op (for more info, here's an article I wrote for the Metro Santa Cruz about the Bike Church), the Computer Kitchen is devoted to reducing e-Waste by extending the life of computers by making repairs accessible and affordable, and teaching users how to use and repair their own systems.
As tech becomes an increasingly ubiquitous part of our lives, it is increasingly marketed as disposable. This could have catastrophic environmental consequences, considering that your typical trip to the Geek Squad for repairs can cost nearly as much as a replacement, encouraging unnecessarily early upgrades to systems. What was once a computer lifespan of 4-5 years has become as short as 1-2 years as upgrades become cheaper than repairs. This can also disenfranchise computer users without the economic resources to keep up with the latest tech, unable to enjoy a reasonable lifespan from technology they can barely afford. The Computer Kitchen model suggests a way that we can encourage digital literacy in our physical communities, empowering tech neophytes by offering them low-cost, hands-on training far more accessible than arcane tech support message-boards and FAQ's.
Editor's Note: There are lots of these DIY activities going on in the Bay Area, including the Bike Kitchen and Noisebridge. Similar projects around the country are listed on Collective Autonomy.