How do people adapt technology?
April 24, 2010 4:38 AM   Subscribe

What are good examples of the way normal people take technology and devices and repurpose them in a way the manufacturer didn't dream of? (e.g. using in car CD player as cup holder, or the spin cycle on a washing machine to soothe a baby)

If you can think of any examples with pictures that would be great. I'm doing a project about the unpredictability of social change
posted by Marzipan to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to suggest the use of toothbrushes for cleaning taps but this example is a little more exotic!
posted by ceri richard at 4:41 AM on April 24, 2010

People do all kinds of things with duct tape that have nothing to do with holding ducts together.
People use lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, vodka, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide for cleaning things around the home.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:17 AM on April 24, 2010

Lots of children's arts/crafts use household objects like pipe cleaners, milk cartons, egg cartons, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:23 AM on April 24, 2010

Two examples come to mind - the re-use of WWII-era materials in the South Pacific for virtually everything, (previously on mefi as well) and the hacks/repurposing of everyday items that show up in the Afrigadget blog.
posted by jquinby at 5:29 AM on April 24, 2010

Something I learned here on AskMe: Monistat anti-chafing gel as a makeup primer.
posted by Houstonian at 5:34 AM on April 24, 2010

Not sure how many of these are for normal people, but:

Credit card for scraping ice off wind shield.
Microwave to destroy recordable optical media.
Using the original Xbox as a hi-def media centre.
Drink coolers as mash tuns to make beer.
Tractor tyres as exercise and playground equipment.
Socks as puppets.
Soft drink bottles as terrariums and rockets.
Floor tiles to convert domestic ovens to pizza ovens.
Pringles cans and pie plates as wi-fi extenders.
Plastic bread bag ties as guitar picks.
Garden sprinklers and hoses as water toys.
Mason jars as drinking glasses.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:02 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the soothing baby line, a vacuum will (sometimes) soothe a colicky baby. (I knew people who left theirs running all night!)

My husband, when we were dating and he lived in a horrible student apartment, boiled me an egg by hacking the top off an empty soda can using kitchen shears, filled it with water, and boiled the egg in it right on the (gas, open flame) stovetop. Seems terribly dangerous, but it did work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 AM on April 24, 2010

My cousin uses his broken iPod shuffle as a tie clip.
posted by elizardbits at 6:51 AM on April 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Apparently some people are using their Neutrogena Wave face cleaning devices as vibrators.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:58 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before I had a hand mixer, I had a cordless drill. The drill would happily accept a thin handled fork in its bits and serve as a perfectly good single beater mixer. You just had to be careful not to let pancake batter get into the works.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some clever apartment dweller turned a shoeholder into an herb garden.
posted by newmoistness at 8:12 AM on April 24, 2010

Not really a device, though, so I guess it doesn't answer your question. Sorry!
posted by newmoistness at 8:14 AM on April 24, 2010

In film making, gaffers, grips, electricians, and production assistants use clothes pins to secure wiring, gels, and other stuff, because clothes pins are inexpensive, temporary, and conduct neither heat nor electricity.

Apparently some people use clothes pins as nipple clamps.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:20 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of women use their electric toothbrushes as sex toys. (No pics, sorry.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:32 AM on April 24, 2010

Kevin Kelly's Street Use blog is dedicated to "the ways in which people modify and re-create technology".
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:13 AM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

the comic book Doktor Sleepless explores his concept a lot
posted by The Whelk at 9:17 AM on April 24, 2010

Around here, I've seen at least one "cartonero" (people who scavenge for cardboard and similar recyclables) who had used several found CDs as reflective traffic warnings on the back of his cart. They worked surprisingly well for that. In a previous job, an old blocky dead Sun server, shaped pretty much like a cube (can't remember the model) was used as the base for a small glass table, pretty cool looking and all.
posted by Iosephus at 9:35 AM on April 24, 2010

When my laptop gets warm I use it to soothe my aching finger joints by sticking my hands underneath it. This kind of works for my knees too, but not as well.
posted by patheral at 9:44 AM on April 24, 2010

Thank you for the pointer to KK's Street Use, I can't believe I've not come across it before.

would appreciate a photo of the cartonero, Iosephus, if you ever find yourself taking such a pic
posted by infini at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2010

When my cousin worked in sound, part of his job was to occasionally pick up economy packs of unlubricated condoms, which they used to cover microphones to block out ambient noise.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:11 AM on April 24, 2010

Search on blogs for titles with the word "Hacks" in them. Adapting [physical item] for a different use is often called a [physical item] hack.
posted by WCityMike at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2010

There is a blog that highlights such achievements of human ingenuity!

posted by hussmanne at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2010

Wait, people put their babies in the washing machine? That can't be right.

Okay, I know, I know. But I can't believe no-one has commented on this phrasing. Especially after "Poison is all we do!" the other day.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2010

Giving something closer to an actual answer to your question, I once saw a production of 'Blythe Spirit' where at a certain point one of the actors on stage opened a desk drawer and a cascade of notepaper blew out of it and up into the air (there was a ghost, see). It was a great, and very crowd-pleasing, bit of special effects. Later we asked how they'd done it.

The props manager had taken a pull-back-and-go toy car, 'wound it up', and put it on top of a ream of note paper that almost filled the drawer. When the drawer was closed the car was pressed down too firmly onto the paper for its wheels to turn, but as soon as it was opened the pressure was lessened, the wheels span, and the top few layers of paper were propelled out of the drawer. The car remained out of sight, and the whirring sound of the wheels was concealed by the sound of the drawer opening, the paper whipping through the air, and the actor going "Yih!" and leaping back.

This is a one-off, though, not a widespread social phenomenon. For the latter, how about the way people (rather than phone companies) in some countries have started to use mobile phones to transmit money? Small sums but high volume, and no wire fee.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The whole of Machinima is re-purposing game engines for purposes undreamed of by the authors. By extension, the whole game mod community is about adapting games to the users' agendas.
posted by SPrintF at 12:27 PM on April 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

lapsangsouchong that has got to be the coolest story I ever heard, thanks for sharing. and are you referring to the informal "my phone is an ATM" kind of thing documented in Uganda called sente?
posted by infini at 1:01 PM on April 24, 2010

Many people, including me, roast their own coffee in improvised roasters made from bread maker machines and paint-stripping heat guns.

I have an old bread maker with a broken element. The motor still goes, so in effect I have a heat-proof bowl with a stirring vane. The heat gun produces hot air at 500C. I got a cheap multimeter with temperature probe and mounted it in the breadmaker basin. Now I just tip green beans in, put the bread maker on dough cycle, turn on the heat gun, and monitor roast progress with the multimeter.

I got the idea from a website devoted to home roasting. I don't know who invented the concept but lots of people do it now.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:24 PM on April 24, 2010

When I was roasting coffee I used a stovetop device I called my scepter which was essentially just a copper toilet float with a circular hole cut in the top, srewed onto a long rod. Rotate over the flame until the sound changes and the smoke is dense, et voila! The best dark roast ever.

Another tiny hack I use daily is an old house-key which I filed a deep notch into the end, and then sharpened. I use it to start peeling naval oranges (although originally my thought was it would work for ripping the tape to open cardboxes -- maybe the Mark 2).

And the latest kitchen repurposing, for those of you making steamed milk for espresso is, an egg can be steamed the same way! Weird but true -- try it!
posted by Rash at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2010

Here are instructions for using a paper shredder as a pasta machine.

Name any object. Someone, somewhere is using it as a sex toy.

People use Coca Cola in a variety of ways.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 4:33 PM on April 24, 2010

Check out Home-Made: Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts. It's a great record of popular ingenuity under the Soviet system. The book consists of photos of everyday objects re-purposed, such as the TV antenna made of forks, alongside short interviews with their makers.
posted by tallus at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my professors in grad school told me she'd read an article about those boxy Scion cars (it's a specific model, but I don't know the name off the top of my head... it's the one that's kind of like a tiny van) being marketed specifically for the "youth" demographic, but that a lot of senior citizens had been buying them because they were so easy for people with limited mobility to get in and out of.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:51 PM on April 25, 2010

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