DOING MAINTENANCE THE ITALIAN WAY

W8.3

VOICES FROM ITALY

 When I discovered that this magazine existed I was taken aback. In 2004, I wrote a book with Barbara Santoro called ‘Italian Factor’ about a something which is often mistaken with being ‘Made in Italy’ and is, in truth, something completely different: it’s the ‘Italian Factor’.

The ‘Italian Factor’ combines and considers the value of people, intelligence, the artist’s touch, and the ideas of tailor-made into a unique mix only the Italians are able to concoct. It’s a factor that amplifies the power of ‘Italian-ness’ throughout the world, and in all that is ‘Made in Italy’ and of all Italian companies. It relates to taste, relationships, vistas and attention to detail; all qualitative and difficult to measure, and particularly hard to comprehend through the rigid, practical, economic and financial thinking of the Anglo-Saxon world. Manual skill has something to do with all these elements, and is the topic I’m going to talk about in this first, and hopefully long and happy, collaboration with The IT Factor magazine.

Let’s try to contextualize the subject of ‘Hands’ with that of Italian skill. The consumer world frequently embraces challenges in order to reinvent production processes and to create alternative commercial and business strategies. For example, there are new economic models focused on craftsmanship and servicing, such as those that apply to dressmakers, embroiderers, and generally to craftsmen who understand value of individual consumer taste (and even of their flaws). But people who repair and maintain objects like shoes, umbrellas or bags with taste and expertise might seem doomed to be neglected in times of a throw-away society.

But today, anyone who is able to restore objects, to give them a second, happier and more sustainable life, is back in fashion. The internet and social networks have amplified a trend, creating a powerful coalition between innovation and conservation. Everyone now expects to be served and pampered for his passions and needs, and the quest for someone capable of renewing a used, and loved, object is now a common mania.

 In Italy, a cross-generation country par excellance, this phenomenon affects both society and family at the same time. Children learn from watching grandmothers cooking and grandfathers repairing stuff, and from them they want to learn the art of maintenance, not because they want to embrace a Buddhist lifestyle (remember ‘The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, by Arvind Gupta?) but because they want to invent new, while simultaneously old, occupations. It is bringing us closer to the real value of everyday objects, forgotten in the last decade, having been overwhelmed by planned obsolescence in goods and technologies.

All the jobs and crafts that will be able to retain the careful art of servicing will be hugely successful, and in Italy, if we continue to think only in terms of price and visibility, without considering the idea of care and craftsmanship, we’ll miss an opportunity for the future our own peculiarity would allow us to embrace.

Francesco Morace, sociologist and writer, is the founder of Future Concept Lab.