Technology has become part of our being, or as Alexander Stubb said; “we are already cyborgs, phones just haven’t been officially attached to us yet.” If you would ask me to not use my phone for a month it would severely hinder my life just as much as the next one. It is great, practising my music hobby has never been easier. No waiting in front of a recorder for hours to make your own playlist by taking songs from the radio.
However, as in the example of music, all aspects of life are becoming digital. There are no mechanical parts to objects to be felt, heard, or touched. This brings many advantages, devices are more portable, durable, faster, just to name a few. But the downside is that it has become impossible to understand how things work, and this applies to all life improving appliances. Could this be a case of disappearing curiosity?
Leonardo Da Vinci was a real polymath, a universal man, jack of all trades, or simply a man whose expertise spans a number of subject areas. Wikipedia has a nice summary of subjects he practised; Invention, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.
This is not to say that mankind is underachieving in this age, or that there are no polymaths out there anymore. Rather, I want to stress how difficult it has become to be an expert in several fields. With the rapid advancements in science, all fields have become extremely in-depth and advanced. Specialising in one field now takes several lifetimes, and to be an outlier we have to find a most specific niche to assure originality.
It just to be that if something stopped working, you take it apart, find the part that was broken, replace, and reassemble. If you didn’t have the know-how there were always neighbours or friends of friends. Even with the internet now where tutorials and how-to guides are abundant, repairing digital devices has become mission impossible. Besides this enforcing our throw-away culture, it detaches us from asking the second most important question; How does it work?
Tinkering has become something you do in labs or because it is your hobby, no longer is it out of necessity. How does a computer chip work that is processing your scrolling? Honestly, I could only make vague guesses, and most will agree, the time needed to find out is too much. The book ‘A short history of nearly everything’ by Bill Bryson has the most amazing introduction, it touches upon exactly the topic of that we are no longer asking how something works, and we most definitely should. Unfortunately, most of Bryson’s examples throughout the book talk about natural phenomenons, who, disregarding physics, are still understandable by non-experts.
The virtual for me brings many wonders, but the magic of trying to understand something tangible is fading. I think it is the right time now to start asking some questions when we use devices we do not understand. By no means should we disconnect, or go outside and play, rather ask yourself;
Does this device arouse genuine curiosity about how things work? And most importantly; Is it numbing my motivation or aspiration to understand the technological world?