Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Young People Don’t Know How to Fix Anything. From Yahoo.Com

Kids today. They don’t tinker or get their hands dirty when something breaks. They just toss it out and buy another disposable trinket to replace it.

That’s the view of a leading engineering professor in England, at least, who warns that people under 40 are a “lost generation” when it comes to learning how everyday items work and how to fix them.

“We’ve got a lost generation that has grown up with factory electronics that just work all of the time,” Danielle George tells the Telegraph.

“All of these things in our home do seem to work most of the time and because they don’t break we just get used to them. They have almost become like Black Boxes which never die. And when they do we throw them away and buy something new.”

The Rest.


  1. For once, I sympathize with the kids. One reason they can't fix anything is that this is precisely how so much modern technology is designed.

    My Dad used to enjoy complaining about how "the American economy is based on waste." Very little genuine innovation was made in U.S. automobile technology between the introduction of automatic transmission in 1948 and the introduction of computer control in engines in the '80s. For decades, American carmakers wanted you to buy a new car every other year mainly because the tail fins were bigger. This disposable economy has gotten much worse with the rise of consumer electronics: if you bought a computer, camera, music player, or phone anytime in the last ten years, chances are good the old one still works.

    I always liked the definition of "high technology" as "technology you can't fix yourself." Look at what Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court could do. OK, he was a fictional character, but nevertheless a plausible one for his time. Look at what a modern engineering student is taught.

    We've more than once decried in this forum how "tech savvy" or "computer savvy" our students are as largely a myth. The truth is that modern students can't program computers to save their lives. One reason for it is the tremendous growth in complexity in computer languages.

    To be fair, however, another reason for our students' technological incompetence is the learned helplessness that we also so often complain about in this forum. Last semester, I had a wealthy, helicopter-parented student who couldn't figure out how to use a simple C-clamp, because it was the first one this student had ever seen. But then, education being my job, I stayed patient and showed the student how it worked.

    1. It's not the student's fault he's never used a C-clamp. It's only his fault if he refuses to learn to use a C-clamp.

    2. I'd modify that a little. It's the student's fault if he won't figure the C-clamp out. I think it's fair to worry about a student at the university level who can't pick up something as simple as a C-clamp, twiddle one end, and pretty quickly grasp what it's for, and how it works. I mean - universities go on ad nauseam about 'problem-solving', 'life-long-learning', 'learning-how-to-learn' and whatnot. So maybe figuring out a C-clamp should be on the entrance exam (if we still had entrance exams).

  2. Some of it is learned helplessness, but some of it is also never having been exposed to any practical skills. My dad was much handier than I am, but at least my children have used a saw and have some idea of how much paint it takes to cover how much wall.

  3. I'm not surprised at this. I saw this during the years that I taught at a tech school. Those who didn't take shop in high school or had a trade background (either directly or by being related to a tradesman) were completely clueless.

    I also saw that while I was a grad student. What startled me was being in a lab of electrical engineering students who didn't know how to use a wire stripper.

    Maybe I'm biased. Both of my parents had their journeyman's papers, so I grew up in a practical environment. Also, when I was younger, I liked taking things apart just to see what was inside them. Sometimes I managed to put them back together again and there were some occasions when they even worked.

    Sadly, many of the students nowadays don't have that curiosity. It's, of course, difficult to fix many electronic devices nowadays. The use of surface-mount technology instead of discrete components largely makes it irrelevant. But they are so smitten with the toys that are available that they think that's what technology's about.

    No wonder I get strange looks from them whenever I set up my amateur radio station outside. None of them have any idea what it is, let alone how to use it.

  4. This reminds me of an article in the local paper a few years back where apprenticeship programs were struggling because high school graduates entering the programs didn't even know how to swing a hammer properly. (I guess students who want to be carpenters, plumbers, etc. are just as clueless about their skills as those who want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. ...)
    When I was in grade 6 a shop class was part of the curriculum, using screwdrivers, drills, band saw, belt sander, etc. That stuff in younger grades just doesn't fly anymore (liability and all that...), and I can't think of any high school age kids who are uni-college bound and have the time to spare to pick up a shop course just for the hell of learning.
    As others have said, it is a combination both of lack of exposure and opportunity to being handy, but also lacking the curiosity to learn. I'm sometimes reduced to brinkmanship with my grad students who balk at doing anything handy, because there is no dividing wall between being a researcher and being handy ("read the equipment manual to figure out how to calibrate this machine, otherwise the measurements are garbage, and if you aren't willing to calibrate this machine then I don't want to waste 2 years of funding on you to generate a thesis that is based on garbage.").

    1. Unfortunately, that mentality is expected by certain employers.

      When I was in industry (back before the Chixulub meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs, or so my students seemed to think), I often made use of design aids like pipe cleaners, plasticine, Lego blocks, and even cardboard and tape.

      The purpose was to help me visualize what something might look while I was designing someething. I could hold it in my hand or walk around it in order to get an idea of whether what I had in mind fit or simply made sense.

      Later, I taught drafting and CAD, and I not only used that to show students how things should look like, I encouraged them to start their own junk box and fill them with similar items.

      It worked in industry back in the (relative) Cretaceous Era when I was there. It apparently doesn't now. In fact, it's seen as obsolete and anachronistic. Nowadays, everything has to be designed by computer, particularly using 3-D modelling. Resorting to using such physical materials is seen by some employers as ineptitude.

      I found that out when I tried looking for a job after I quit my teaching position. Each time I mentioned that I used that approach, I got strange looks as if I had just crawled out from under a rock.

      It seems that even industry has forgotten that the most powerful design tools are one's imagination and anything that is used to stimulate it.


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