In my quest to review new technology, I discovered a lot of gadgets. It made me realize that there are some very creative people in this world, the “Tinkerers”. It also made me realize that we’ve been destroying this art, bit by bit, by systematically transforming the toys we give to our children and the programs that we put on television.
Television, that “Boob Tube” of programs spurred the imagination. Each week kids watched a Star Trek episode with a communicator, until one day that communicator became a cellphone. They watched Uhura’s earpiece, until it became a Bluetooth headset. These were the same kids that used empty toilet paper tubes, spools of thread and cardboard egg-crates to build rocket-ships; the stuff of imagination.
Leave a kid with a sheet of paper and it becomes an airplane. She carefully folds it, as she remembers seeing it done. She’s trying it, tinkering with paper that’s soundless, so it doesn’t draw attention. She creases it along an imaginary fold; she holds it between her forefinger and thumb. She holds her breath, thinking that if she’s done it right, then it will surely take flight.
In great anticipation, she pulls her arm back and throws it forward with all her might. The paper airplane leaves her round hand, it has lift and with a flurry of energy it spirals up towards the ceiling. She gasps, she can hardly believe that she’s done it and then the oddest thing happens, the paper airplane just drops to the floor. And for a moment she’s deflated, she picks it up and looks at it and thinks …
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the world’s greatest tinkerers; he saw improvement in nearly everything he looked at, his world was a blank sheet of paper. Now- a-days, the tinkerers build upon da Vinci’s work and many others. Most are nameless and less visible than movie stars and that’s sad. Still, we benefit with the end product, modern day feats of inventions like Smartphones, Androids and tablets.
I imagine that the feeling of successful tinkering is somehow linked to endorphins, that pleasing feeling of having accomplished something so wonderful, that once you do, little bits of confetti are tossed up into the air. A moment full of smiles, amok with possibility! It’s the feeling of being a kid at the beach and building a sand castle that the ocean takes away. You’re not angry; you just think you’ll build a better one next time.
The art of tinkering begins with play, where the human senses are allowed to romp through open fields, both real and imagined. Where school lessons ask questions that inspire more questions, and once exposed to math and science, are guided along to their natural conclusion that is to discover and improve life. It’s not limited with video games that help you shoot Nazi’s in a first person war, in someone else’s imagined Call of Duty.
All of these thoughts came to me, as I stumbled across more and more technology that at its best, was simple gadgetry. This, the art of tinkering.