I had dinner last week with a few friends, and one of the things we discussed was cognitive surplus. I commented on the recent explosion of tweets and blog posts about the iPad, and how it will usher in the end of tinkering as we know and love it. It’s a sentiment I share, but what struck me most about this recent vociferousness cry of the mob was that too few of them are actually making things today on the computers and other devices they have. As Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
One of my friends said that people don’t make things because it’s hard, but I don’t think it has anything to do with it being hard. Most people don’t make things because they’ve only ever been taught how to consume. They live in a plastic world impossible to reproduce, governed by the expert, the manufacturer, the teacher, the broadcaster, the chef.
But it doesn’t have to be so. You can make stuff. Tonight I was cleaning up after dinner, and noticed two pieces of cardboard on the table (scraps from a box), each with a perfect hole cut in the centre. I called to our girls and handed them each one: “Make something cool with these.” I didn’t have to say anything else. They knew what to do next. One made a bird house using tape, more cardboard and a pencil, with the round hole as the opening. The other made an elaborate one-eyed mask and devised a way of moving while wearing it that made her “like a character in a story.”
People start out knowing how to make things. They are taught to stop. It takes time to refine one’s taste such that the homemade won’t do anymore. You have to work at shutting down the desire to create and build and make. But you can do it. Most adults I know wouldn’t know what to do with a piece of cardboard that had a perfect circle cut out of the middle, or what to do with their laptop either.