Clive Thompson has a great short article about the importance of the DIY culture in the latest issue of Wired. I’m a very big proponent of this kind of (unfortunately, counter-intuitive) thinking, so I always feel the need to repeat myself. Clive says it best:
But as we migrated to an information economy, (mechanical skills) began to seem as quaint as, well, mechanical clocks. America’s bright future, we were assured, wasn’t industrial. It was in the hands of “symbolic analysts” — folks who sat at desks and thought for a living. In the ’90s, the rise of the Internet sent this post-mechanical age into a sort of giddy overdrive. Remember Nicholas Negroponte urging everyone to “move bits, not atoms”?
But when we stop working with our hands, we cease to understand how the world really works.
You see this on a personal level. If you can’t get under the hood of the gadgets you buy, you’re far more liable to believe the marketing hype of the corporations that sell them. When things break, you toss them and buy new ones; you accept your role as a mere consumer. “I think it makes you more passive as an individual,” says Matthew Crawford, a former motorcycle repair-shop owner (and postdoctoral fellow in cultural studies) who’s writing a book on the demise of mechanical aptitude in America.
It might even screw up our brains. Neuroscientists have shown that working with your hands exercises different parts of your cerebrum than sitting and cogitating. Ever wonder why Detroit isn’t producing 100-mpg cars? One reason might be that the engineers there spend all their time tinkering with CAD software — developing design concepts in a purely virtual sense. They aren’t ripping open cars to see what’s possible, the way those amateur ultra-mileage Prius hackers do (some of whom, by the way, have modded their hybrids to get 100 mpg).
I’m not always the best at this type of thing, but I’m trying. In this day and age of fast and convenient and NOW!, learning these types of skills will seem counter-intuitive and time-consuming, but they are important. Not only does it save money and can help to conserve resources, but it exercises our most important commodity…our brains. Cooking meals, fixing things, making things, and getting your hands dirty can be one of the more gratifying things a human can do. While passive entertainment might satisfy you in the short term, it can never take the place of learning to do-it-yourself.