Engineering prof: Young people have no clue how to fix things

Engineering professor Danielle George bemoans the idea that when a gadget needs fixing, young people throw it away and buy a new one

Tinkering with things isn't so popular these days, according to Professor George. Sugru/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I confess that when I manage to fix something in the house, I feel an unreasonable, possibly insane, pleasure.

This is principally because I barely know how to put a slice of bread inside a toaster. When I watch my engineer friend George fix my DVR, I believe I am in the presence of Leonardo da Vinci.

However, my incompetence may have a positive aspect: it may indicate that I am young. As far as a British engineering professor is concerned, today's under-40s are utterly clueless when it comes to fixing electronic things that go wrong. Instead, they use the perfect capitalist remedy: they buy a new one.

Danielle George --a professor of radio frequency engineering at the University of Manchester in England -- is giving a series of lectures to inspire renewed interest in engineering. The Telegraph quoted her as saying: "We've got a lost generation that has grown up with factory electronics that just work all of the time."

She wishes that young people would be more creative and innovative and think about not only mending their gadgets but also repurposing them for many other uses. In her lectures, she shows how to turn a smartphone into a microscope, a washing machine into a wind turbine and a microwave into a space station. (Actually, I might have made that last one up in my enthusiasm.)

This sounds terribly entertaining and useful. But it also sounds like hard work. We don't really like hard work, do we? We're akin to especially haughty British aristocracy. When the servants downstairs fail to perform, we put them out to pasture and just get ourselves someone more able-bodied.

George conceded in an interview with the Independent that there's a perception that "science and maths [that's what they call it over there] is hard." This is principally because science and math is hard. At university, I wondered whether to study something scientific. Then I realized that, if I did, I would actually have to go to class.

In a way, though, her angst is a tribute to the talents of people like her. In days gone by, engineers weren't always terribly good at making things that worked. Especially if they were engineers making cars in Detroit. These days, though, things work a lot better, which means we take them for granted like a spouse after, oh, twenty months.

Perhaps George was lucky. Her dad was a car mechanic. Her immersion in tinkering may have come at a very early age. But these days we (we, the young, I mean) are rather more interested in the ends than the means.

We're like that at work, in our personal relationships and in our relations with the things we use. We want instant gratification every evening, stock options in our first week of work and a taxi that arrives with one poke of our phones.

We are, at heart, golfers. It doesn't matter how, it matters how many.

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