Maker Faire

I had one of those flashes of insight a few months ago. It occurred while I was fixing a go-kart with my youngest son. He was reinstalling the chain guard and as he did he stopped to ask me which way to turn the screw. I replied in my best Dad voice: "If you're tightening it, you want to turn it clockwise." His response floored me. He asked: "what do you mean by 'clockwise?'"

Now mind you this is a bright young lad with good grades in middle school. Yet, he didn't understand my reference to the movement of the hands of a clock. At first, I was astounded by this gap in his learning. But, then I realized that he and most of his friends don't wear watches (they use their cell phones or, more likely, given their age, are indifferent to the concept of time). And when they do wear watches, they are digital - not analog. It was then that I began to lament the advent of the digital age. My fear was that we are raising a world of children who have almost unlimited access to information, yet little ability to use this knowledge to create or repair the tangible. At this point in his life, my son is more familiar with on-line tools than the ones in our garage. And, I'm not sure this is entirely a good thing.

So, I was elated when we recently attended the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. For those not familiar with the event, it is an outgrowth of Make Magazine, which I can only describe as Popular Science for this millennium. The Maker Faire represents the intersection of science + art + shared knowledge + "using your hands to make stuff". It has everything including incendiary Burning Man sculptures, Steampunk minibikes, astronomy experiments, a Tesla coil machine, demonstrations on how to retrofit your home for grey water usage, electric powered cupcake cars and, of course, the now ubiquitous Diet Coke + Mentos "experiment." We wandered around for hours, but next year will be there for the entire weekend.

And, my son even purchased a kit to build a solar powered toy car. It gave me a chance to teach him how to solder...and made me feel a little better.


While I agree completely with the theme of your post, I am not sure the trigger was really valid. Sure, the meaning of clockwise and counterclockwise has less relevance to todays kids, but their meaning to us is largely accidental. Everybody learned to tell time and clocks had a convention regarding direction, so they were naturally used in this manner. But so what? If clocks no longer fit the bill, then a new terminology will emerge. Or maybe kids will still be taught the meaning of clockwise and counterclockwise, but they won't get that for free from learning to tell time. You're still "dialing" your phone, aren't you, even though it no longer has a dial?

By the way, I notice you are reading The Ancestor's Tale. Loved it! Great book.

Posted by Brian Utterback on May 18, 2008 at 11:12 PM PDT #

No new term necessary = "sunwise" will do nicely for many of us.

Posted by James Moore on May 19, 2008 at 11:38 AM PDT #

Righty tighty, lefty loosey is a good way to remember it.

Posted by terri molini on June 04, 2008 at 12:49 AM PDT #

Your son is older than mine, but I'm worried about this trend also. Clockwise, and the clock-based directions (hands at 10 and 2, for example).

Mine's likely to grow up to an electronics project bench building an simple crystal radio that doesn't have any signals to receive, unless it has a MPEG decoder.


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Posted by tom on March 15, 2010 at 03:08 PM PDT #

Now mind you this is a bright young lad with good grades in middle school. Yet, he didn't understand my reference to the movement of the hands of a clock.

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