You remember those days... I know you do. When you took your parents TV apart? Or that time when you plugged the vcr video into the left channel input of your dad's stereo?
The times when you were trying to learn how things worked. These were instructive efforts for you, not wasted, or costly, whatever your parents might have thought.
The innovators of our modern period did not create their magical devices by starting from scratch. They stood on the shoulders of giants. They used working technology, took it apart and re-assembled it in a new way, to give us what we now call iPhones and iPads, and Android devices. They are the great tinkerers of our time.
There is a problem with these devices that needs to be addressed. They are not by themselves, tinker-able. The children of today that we expect to be the great innovators of tomorrow cannot do what current innovators have done. Tinkering, and taking things apart is important LASTLY for learning how things work, it is important to help children create a model of the world where it is OK to take things apart. It is OK to twiddle all the knobs you see. Most important is that it is OK to fail. This should be learned earlier than later in life.
The iPad is frustratingly difficult to take apart. Most of the modern gadgets that we covet today do not promote an ease and accessibility for the tinkerer. Legislation like the DMCA, and the "analog gap" issue only further frustrates people who are trying to innovate. Hardware in modern gadgets is too highly integrated. Software and production techniques are wrapped in patents and commercial protection that prohibits taking apart, or reverse engineering.
Fostering innovation takes more than just better science classes. Children that will be the innovators of tomorrow must have the freedom and willingness to take things apart, and twiddle all the knobs they can see. This takes more than just science classes. It must be possible to take a TV apart, and get something from that experience - something more than just frustration, or a lawsuit.
When faced with the stumbling blocks presented by these devices, the pragmatic response is to change the device, either by replacing it with something that meets the need, or by re-engineering. What response do you think children of today will have to gadgets they cant take apart and repurpose? How will they channel the frustration that they have over the closed ecosystems that we are creating?
Innovation does not stand still. It, like nature, will find a way. Recent developments do not promote modern tinkering. They are too highly integrated, or wrapped in so much DRM that their usefulness is limited to it in and of itself. The innovators of tomorrow will do the same things that the innovators of today have done, they will steal, hack and reverse-engineer. Being given this capacity earlier than later will only promote these skills that are so important building new things in the future.
This post was inspired in part by my frustration, but more by others who are doing something about this. Check out ifixit.org and the good people over at build-it-yourself. I found this TED talk from a guy who runs a tinkering school. He seems to have his head in the right place.
Doesnt a problem like broken, unusable textbooks just make you mad?
John Dvorak just posted this pice, I think it is important: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405770,00.asp