Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

I Yearn for the Age of Tinkering

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

I Yearn for the Age of Tinkering

Article excerpt

The other day, while I was sedately working away in my office, there was a great crash outside my window. Looking up, I watched as a backhoe began to tear into an abandoned three-story building long slated to come down. From that point on, all work was out of the question. I reoriented my chair and stared out at the demolition, completely at peace, thoroughly satisfied.

What is it about wrecking things that has such visceral appeal? Although I walk on politically fragile ground when saying this, the draw seems to be almost exclusively a male phenomenon. I bore witness to this conviction later in the day while teaching my biology laboratory. At the sound of the first clatter of steel against concrete all the men in the room leaped to their feet and headed to the window while the women, for the most part, remained at their tasks.

Having said this, I can clearly remember my origins as one who fancies seeing things taken apart. When I was 5, I picked up a fork and began to pry into my parents' kitchen radio. My father rescued the thing just in the nick of time, but he didn't scold me. Instead, he found a broken radio and handed it to me along with a set of tools. "Enjoy," he said, and I was delighted with the dissection that ensued.

(As a footnote, I should add that my father's prescience as a parent had an unfortunate side effect: The very next day I attacked the radio in my kindergarten, laying it out tube, screw, and wire. The teacher, Mrs. Aronson, called my parents in and asked, rhetorically, "Who could indulge such behavior?" It was the only time I saw my father at a loss for words.)

The radio was only the beginning. The first thing I did after receiving my first bike at the age of 7 was to take it apart. It took me several days to restore it, but I never lost the feeling for how the thing worked. Then came my first car, a '68 Chevelle. Within weeks I knew every screw, gasket, and hose.

The age of electronics and computer circuitry has largely put an end to such tinkering and laying out of parts. …

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