Excerpt from The Tinkerers, by Alec Foege

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One Response to “Excerpt from The Tinkerers, by Alec Foege”

  1. Oceanconcepts says:

    I’m not so sure increasing complexity of systems is such a barrier to tinkering, since the tools are getting more sophisticated and less expensive at the same time.  The availability of prototyping services for electronics (including things far too tiny to be assembled by hand) and physical objects (and the explosion of 3D printing technology now underway) have increased the ability of individuals to design at a very high level. 

    My wife and I had an idea for a new sort of electronic instrument over 15 years ago, just as it was becoming barely possible for individuals and small groups to do sophisticated electronics- with fast processors, multiple sensors, small enough to be hand held and battery powered and work in difficult environments. I feel like we represented a bleeding edge of what later became the “maker” movement. Granted, when we started we were both qualified to do the design, and one of us (my wife) was a very experienced hardware/ software engineer with 25+ years in the field.  But this was still a kitchen table project.  We designed and prototyped a product that would have taken a good sized team- and a lot of money- to build just a few years earlier. The internet, the accessibility of suppliers of parts and the software tools all empower individual inventors. We have since licensed the design, and it is being manufactured and sold internationally, competing very effectively with far larger companies.  We innovated around many limitations that large organizations have. 

    When I talk with electronics reps, they tell me that an increasing part of their new business is coming from people like us, who have some experience and an idea they are able to develop independently.  Many of these products are in medical, energy, recreational or other specialized industries, and plenty are being built by domestic contract manufacturers that specialize in smaller volume runs. Most won’t make much of an impact on mass market culture, and most won’t make their inventors fabulously rich, but they do represent a vibrant stream of innovation that, if anything, is growing.  I suspect we are entering a kind of golden age of tinkering, and that the impact of these tools just hasn’t been fully felt yet.  

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