Taking Stuff Apart

I used to take a lot of stuff apart when I was little. I would dismantle every piece of electronic equipment that I could find lying around the house. There was all kinds of stuff because my dad had a gadget habit that was pretty out of control. As usual, it was always easier to take the stuff apart than it was to put it back together again. Generally speaking, I would manage to get most components back in place, but then once the casing was back on there would always be those few nuts and bolts sitting on the carpet with that come hither look in their eyes – as if to say – “bet you don’t know how essential I am do you?” And of course I didn’t…

With a mixture of pain and pleasure, I’ve noted that my 9 year old is now displaying the same characteristics as me. I increasingly find destroyed electronics in and around his room. This morning, I asked him with genuine curiosity whether he had been able to remove intact the components of the LED Self Illuminating spinning top I had recently bought him – and wether it still worked afterwards. He confessed that it didn’t which was a shame, he said. But, he went on, what was interesting was that there was no printed circuit board of the usual kind in there – just a ball bearing that made a connection with two bare wires inside. He was really pleased to have found that out and figured out how it worked! We smiled at each other with genuine delight at having figured this out – what a satisfying moment of parenthood!

I did a quick google search and found a few other people who have commented on this. Sean McGrath who writes in an article for IT world was most concerned because of the fact that circuit boards do dominate and how little they give away. How are the kids of today going to figure out how stuff works if all they find is circuit boards inside?

Good point – perhaps there’s an opportunity here to build a new line of toys that are complicated enough to be challenging to take apart, but made up of clearly functioning pieces to answer questions for enquiring minds. Could be good – on the whole of course, kids just want to take stuff apart for the sake of satisfying natural curiosity – not because they think it will do them good – but make something that looks naturally curious might be a step in an interesting direction.

And scarily, continuing to Google – these two users of OK Cupid expressed “taking stuff apart” as one of their interests!

And someone who calls himself “HardHat Chipmunk” is also interested in confessing to a childhood of “taking stuff apart”. While those good folk at “takingchildrenseriously.com” also see this as a sign of great intelligence!


3 responses to “Taking Stuff Apart

  1. This reminds me of a project by two designers, Usman Haque and Adam Somlai-Fischer, who used technology taken from toys to build low-tech design and installation prototypes.

    They developed a range of sensors and other devices, typically ‘hacked’ from toys and other devices, a process which, they say, required little specialist knowledge. The devices they hacked included remote controlled cars, torches, walkie-talkies, ‘sound-responsive’ cats, and solar-powered garden lights.

    Fascinating stuff, and there’s quite a lot of ‘how-to’ in their write up. Your nine year old would certainly enjoy it…

    Usman Haque and Adam Somlai-Fischer, Low Tech Sensors and
    Actuators, lowtech.propositions.org.uk

  2. So – you mean – like we can’t just take stuff apart – we have to – like – put it back together again? But not necessarily in that order – hmmm – now that gets to be quite fun – pass the superglue!

  3. Good article and good point about the decline in dismantle-able things. I think kids now have some advantages as they can still learn the guts of mechanical items, as well as getting inside the “bits” of electronics for some less tangible but equally rewardable code hacking.

    And for anyone interested in the article that the photo above is from: Fixing a Fridge.


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