My last post covered the importance of enthusiasts in keeping technology alive. For many of us the “crazy bug” came from wandering through Radio Shack or the surplus store at the mall or from reading Popular Science or Popular Mechanics at the barber shop. It may be hard to imagine, but once upon a time some boys (and some girls) were more interested in those magazines than the activities of celebrities.
Kids built stuff at one time. Their clueless parents let them risk fingers and eyes by playing with tools in the garage, barn, or chicken coop; many parents even helped. Thousands of ice boats, soap box derby cars, model airplanes (even real airplanes) were built from scrap materials or kits. Thousands more were started and never finished but the lessons learned from even attempting to build something on your own are life altering.
When was the last year erector sets were near the top of kids’ Christmas lists? I am not so foolish as to think we can turn the clock back to the 1950s but the emergence of 3-D printing gives me hope that within a few years kids will be building model star ships of their own design on Christmas afternoon. The morning will have to be spent learning to use a 3-D drafting program, of course.
Unless a child is satisfied just reproducing the work of others, they are going to need to learn to design. My son, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati graphic design program, is a fundamentalist on this topic. He argues that you can’t learn to properly design anything by just mastering the popular “program of the month.” His argument is the same one I use to convince clients to skip the short cuts and really learn about gears. The “program of the month” will change — the founding principles of how gears work won’t.
So here is one curmudgeon with hope for a future where kids once again make things at home. Hopefully, with less risk to digits and eyesight.