Last month, iFixit hosted a Xbox One giveaway on Instagram. Hundreds of fixers all over the interwebs threw their names into the hat for a chance to win the game console. But, like all giveaways, there could only be one lucky winner: Yvonne Sing. Although she was randomly chosen, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Yvonne is an experienced fixer with tons of repair stories. She even has a startup repair business in New York City.
Born to hardworking, hacker parents, Yvonne was raised to be independent and fearless when it came to engineering. So naturally, I just had to ask her some questions—from fixer to fixer. See what the winner of iFixit’s Xbox One giveaway had to say about the repair culture:
Why is it so important for people to fix, tinker, and hack their things today?
So much of our culture and society, for so many years, had this thought, “Well, I can just throw it away and get a new one. I don’t have to worry about fixing it. It’s no big deal”—because everything has become commodified.
But there’s the flip side of it. There are things going into landfills or into our water. And people’s incomes aren’t necessarily keeping up with that level of spending and consuming. So folks are starting to think maybe they can get a few more years out of this phone … because after a while it adds up. It adds up a lot. And there is just no way you can sustain that. I think that’s why repair is becoming more important.
Why do you think so many people are afraid to open up their things?
Confidence comes from the comfort. But that comes with years and years of experience. I think that a lot of people who are new to the idea of repair have a little bit of fear—as opposed to calmly saying, “Okay, let me sit down and try to learn it.” I would say to those people, repair is really not as intimidating as you might think. If you sat down and just took apart one piece today, then maybe you can move on to the next piece tomorrow—then the next and the next.
There’s a wealth of resources out there, from manuals to videos. Really getting over your fear means using those resources and taking repair one step at a time. For most people one step is all they need to get started.
But some people feel that they need special knowledge, like a degree or certification, to repair their things. What do you say to them?
There’s no reason to be intimidated. Just because you see some wiz kid down the street whipping through and doing a repair like they’re breathing—they might be quick at it and that’s fine. But with repetition and practice, everyone can find the comfort, the knowledge, and then the confidence.
How did you become a repairer?
I’d have to go back before I was born—to when my father was growing up during the Great Depression. That experience colored his perspective on saving money and repairing his things. I mean, now we think people are struggling, but back then there were people waiting in soup and bread lines just to survive. What he didn’t have or couldn’t buy influenced his life—and he started to tinker and repair. He ran his own electrical company in Brooklyn and later was an auto mechanic. Growing up, I’d see him around the house tinkering, and of course, I picked up on it.
Did you repair anything as a child?
One day, as a kid, I noticed our doorbell was broken. And my dad unhesitatingly said, “Okay, well then, fix it.” I ran downstairs, shut off the breaker switch, grabbed a screwdriver, and put the new doorbell in. It worked. From an early age I was taught not to sit there and complain about it, but to actually go out and correct the problem. I was taught that if you have the ability to go do it—go do it.
When did you start using iFixit?
I was fixing my iPhone 3. I remember the battery bombed out on me—and I was looking at it thinking, “Okay sure!” So I found the teardown online and replaced the battery. And in my head, I remember just imagining about how many dollars someone else would have charged me to do it. I just knew I could do it myself. And it’s still working! My mom is still using it to this day! Now she’s trying to get her hands on my old iPhone 4. It’s the hand-me-down phone system. But that was the first repair I did and used the parts from you guys.
You’ve done a lot of repairs over the years, but do you have a favorite repair story?
In college, I had a friend who had a broken VCR (man, I’m dating myself). You could put a tape in, but you couldn’t get the tape back out. You’d have to sit there and fight, jigger and jam sharp objects in it to try to get it back. I’m looking at him struggling, cursing and swearing and finally I say, “Give me that.” I grabbed the VCR, grabbed a screwdriver, and tore the thing apart. Bear in mind I had never taken a VCR apart before, and the whole time I’m praying I don’t lose any of the screws. (Because you know, every time you put something back together there’s always one screw missing.) I get in there and I see the carriage return is bent. I didn’t have a hammer, so I took a heavy textbook nearby and started banging on it. I watched a lot of MacGyver as a kid! I just sat there banging away, people looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. But I said, “Nah, it’s not going to get any worse than what it was a minute ago.” Eventually we could get the VCR playing tapes correctly again. My friend sat in shock saying, “Oh my God, it worked.” And in the back of my mind I thought, “Yeah … oh my God, that worked.”
What advice would you give to people who are thinking of repairing their things?
One of the best ways to start is to find something that’s broken. Lord knows that everyone has something that’s broken in their house. Pick something that doesn’t work, that you’re just going to chuck. Because if you’re curious about how things work—the best way to do that is by complete and total destruction! Just rip something apart! If it’s already broken then there’s no stigma of “I’m gonna make it worse”—at that point you have no other way to go but up.