The Decline Of Tinkering


Alec Foege mourns the loss of "making something genuinely new out of the things that already surround us":

For many generations in the postindustrial age, puttering around with the mechanical devices that surrounded us was practically a rite of passage, and for many, a way of life. It tethered us to our machines and reaffirmed our notions of modern civilization. Deeply probing how things worked also provided children and adults alike with endless hours of enjoyment. It saved enterprising souls hundreds if not thousands of dollars on repair bills. It also often resulted in new and startling discoveries that sometimes led to fresh innovations.

The first gadget Steve Jobs cobbled together while still in high school with his geeky older college buddy Steve Wozniak was a “blue box” that enabled free long-distance phone calls by duplicating the appropriate digital tones. Sure, the blue box was illegal, but that didn’t stop the mismatched pair of “phone phreaks” from selling a bunch of the units to college students and other intrepid pranksters. The blue box grew out of a simple love for playing around with gadgets and making them bend to the will of a few individuals.

(Photo: Blue Box at the Computer History Museum. Photo taken by RaD man. Image cropped by The Dish. Permission from RaD man under GFDL license via Wikipedia.)