Skip to the content

Circular Wonderings is an exploration of the role of digital, software and technology in the Circular Economy. Exploration is the key word here. I write regularly, reflecting on my current thoughts and research. Expect typos, incomplete thoughts, varied rambling topics and (hopefully) a journey towards clearer understanding and insight. Subscribe here to join my journey.

Repair networks?

Check out this interesting Twitter thread on repair from Venkatesh Rao [1]

He's opinionated, but not just for effect ;) Almost everything he writes makes me think deeply.

I picked one quote which is crucial and highlights a key point that doesn't get enough attention IMHO:

"We appreciate economies of manufacturing scale but not efficiencies of maintenance scale."

His main point in these thread seems to be that "aggregating [maintenance] is more efficient from a knowledge and quality perspective".

That points towards opportunity for repair and maintenance organisations. [4]

However, I'm not sure that his conclusion is a universally applicable as implied in these tweets. Let's assume that he means centrally aggregating repair and maintenance expertise and capacity in specific organisations. One potential implication is geographical centralisation. Taking that to an extreme we end up with repair monoliths; analogous to supermarkets. Which feels, to me, like an attempt to tackle symptoms in the existing system - and not a way to more fundamentally attack the problem's root cause.

He suggests that "Outlier DIY hackers may do better than the industrial mean of service standards". The implication here seems to be that there is a binary choice between low quality repair "hackers" and monolithic, centralised, industrial repair.

Not sure I agree. Instead, I wonder if the real opportunity may be in a middle ground of (less easy to describe) ecosystems of repair and maintenance.

To my mind this brings the idea of anti-fragile networks [2] of smaller repair expertise, but with the efficiency of knowledge and data sharing that the digital world allows.

Can we have both the efficiencies of maintenance & repair at scale along with geographic and power distribution (and anti-fragile robustness)?

I think so.

Is it too much to draw an analogy here between centralised organisations and the promises of crypto and web 3? (NB: I am not actually promoting those technologies as the only solution to breaking the binary implications. Indeed I would argue that, embracing the complexity of many different technology paradigms add to the ecosystem.)

You will not be surprised to hear that I see digital technology as a vital part of the connecting threads [3] in this ecosystem.