A reader writes:
Tinkering is not actually declining. While it may not take the form of a Jobs & Wozniak, there are plenty of tinkerers taking old objects and trying to improve them or create something new out of them. A whole new culture has formed around that very idea to the point where there are magazines dedicated to the craft (Make Magazine among others), Internet programs (Revision 3) and even fairs. Make Magazine has Makerfaire with San Francisco, NY, UK and Detroit as the main sites with smaller versions around the world. These events are heavily attended by a diverse audience that includes everyone form science geeks to families. Tinkering has taken different forms where people build their own 3d printers, robotics and other electronics. It isn’t gone, it’s just moved into a more modern age thanks to tinkerers like Jobs & Wozniak.
I think that you are missing the tinkering that is going on now days. Consider the Raspberry Pi computer selling for just $35.
This is a modern tinkerer's dream box and an entire ecosystem has sprung up around it with projects, daughter cards – all sorts of stuff. For example, the latest post on a projects website is "How to build a virtual analogue synthesizer using Raspberry Pi." You can't get more tinkerer than that! And that is only one of the new small, cheap -dare I say disposable – micro PCs out there.
If, as Foege writes, "tinkering is making something genuinely new out of the things that already surround us," I'd say that the number of tinkerers is many times that of the golden era of the '70s. It's just that people are tinkering with code rather than hardware. All those apps for the iPhone and Android? Thousands represent the product of tinkering, in which developers take existing resources like an operating system and a widget set and produce something new enough that people are willing to spend time on it or even spend money for it.