The most recent episode of Mad Dogs & Englishmen1 starts off with a discussion of buying and assembling and AR-15 from scratch. It’s an interesting process, but the conversation took an even more interesting turn as they focused on the decline of a tinkering ethos in our society.
The machines and devices we use are often too complex to repair, disassemble, or customize. If you open the hood of your car, you won’t be able to see or even access many of the most critical parts - you’ll most likely see a series of injection-molded plastic meant to not only protect but to discourage amateur tinkering. It is more likely that you’ll be able to tinker with your car by software (via OBD-II compatible devices like Automatic) than by mechanical manipulation.
Understanding how to tinker/hack software is an increasingly valuable skill, but we should also recognize and cultivate the ability to take apart, assemble, fix, and customize physical objects. The Maker Movement is a great example of keeping mechanical tinkering alive by encouraging kids and adults alike to get their hands dirty by blending both digital and physical craftsmanship.
As more of our lives become digitized, I hope that we continue to find ways to maintain some form of physical tinkering.