If I never became a journalist, I’d like to think I would have invented something. As a boy, I had this electronics kit that taught me about circuits and switches. I built a rudimentary radio. And a teeny tiny table lamp.
I even rigged a homemade alarm system to my bedroom door that would buzz whenever anyone entered.
Which was kind of unnecessary, if you saw the size of my bedroom.
I once replaced the plastic poker in my old Palm Pilot with a refashioned radio antenna that could serve as an extendable pointer.
I thought it might come in handy when I gave presentations, and I had to point to an unfamiliar country on a map or something. I used the telescoping wand exactly once. People looked at me oddly.
Later, I fabricated a holder for my car phone out of wire and the bottom half of a plastic Coke bottle, re-purposing the suction-cup thingamabob attached to my windshield that was supposed to cradle my navigation unit.
I was proud of my ingenuity. My kids, not so much, especially when they tried to explain the contraption — and their dad — to their friends.
Tinkerers these days have a new name for themselves. They are part of something called the Maker Movement, successors to folks who might have been called do-it-yourselfers in the pre-Internet days. (Remember Harry and Harriet Homeowner, those happy advertising icons for the old Hechinger hardware chain?)
There’s something very empowering about taking a thing made for one purpose and bending it to your will, about refusing to accept the prefabricated world as it is.
Now what if you didn’t have to customize but could actually make the things you wanted in the first place? That’s the promise of 3-D printing, the subject of this week’s cover story.
The price of these gadgets, which can literally “print” physical objects, is falling fast. And they are showing up locally in lots of interesting places, even the D.C. library.
Call it the democratization of manufacturing.
I call it time to start tinkering.