I am trying to remember the last time I took something apart to discover how it worked. I am trying to remember if when I did, I found out how it worked. I rather doubt it. In fact, I am beginning to doubt if I have ever successfully disassembled anything and discovered it’s essential mechanism.
When I was littler I was more curious and more ignorant. I took apart a large number of contraptions but rarely learnt their workings. At least not much beyond an understanding of the basic mechanics that wouldn’t even impress Archimedes, much less Leonardo. And unlike him, I was not a child given to chopping up worms, pulling the legs off spiders or turning flies into ‘walks’. It was obvious that this would not get me very far, especially given my maladroit and unmethodical ways. And my sensible awareness that other people had often done these things first and written them up in books.
Now that I am older and possessed of more library cards, I am still very ignorant but mostly I ignore it. Knowing that no amount of poking about with phillips screwdrivers will tell me how an ipod works and will probably void the warranty too. And the invention of the internet makes it easier to find out both how things work and how stuff works. It is a shame that practical curiosity is so hard to reward in this complex technological age.
I have a long standing ‘bath fantasy’ or ‘beer question’ about if I was sent back in time where, when and how could i have the most impact on speeding up technological progress. The sad fact is that my practical knowledge is so limited that i’d not have much impact anytime after the pleistocene.
I just remembered that I successfully dissected and partially corrected the push-buttons on my last mobile phone. Some of them had stopped working after I dipped in beer at the magical Sziget festival in Hungary. Enough of the buttons were screwed to make it nearly useless so there was nothing to lose. A bit of prizing apart and semi-controlled slicing, i found the buttons were simple metal contact circuits like you used to get it old calculators.. modern technology is sometimes less complex than i expect. Although this is hardly its essential mechanism, which i understand is wrought in silicon.