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Re: [Phys-L] Techn-ology versus button-ology

There are no radios... no grandfather clocks... no cars which anyone can take into their garage and work on. These things that we used to find fun and intriguing to put together and repair do not exist any longer in the world where everything is run by electronics and chips. The author is so correct when he says everything is way beyond complex... instructions for children'stoys and even the most simple of repairs have become complex beyond words.

My car's check engine light went on a year ago, so I took it to my mechanic who hooked up his diagnostic computer to the input under the dash and told me to come back tomorrow when he could get a new chip for some gizmo that went kablooie. And.. come back early in the morning because the engine has to cool down so he could climb on top of the engine block, reach way under the engine to get to the chip, slip it out and replace it... A fifteen minute job which will take three hours because of the location of the chip. Lucky me.. he is very fair and didn't charge me for the extra time spent in his garage letting the engine cool down, finding the chip under the block, or the extra time to bandage his hand when he cut it on a sharp edge on the engine. Compare this to the era (the 1960's) when my friend stripped down a 1952 Studebaker to the ground and rebuilt the entire car in his spare time after school from engine to brakes to suspension.... in his back yard, no less.

The students I teach can fix a broken computer, reprogram a bolloxed up iPad, figure out how to network the school, and break the WiFi code to run their devices during class time. But, they can't, or won't, read a book, perform simple arithmetic problems, or even write a complete sentence. Half of them can't even put gas into their cars or balance a checkbook.
Who needs any of that any more when you have tablets and spell-check and calculators with a hundred functions, most of which are useless for high school students and even worthless for professional engineers.

On Apr 9, 2013, at 6:05 PM, Ludwik Kowalski wrote:

I am reading "Simplexity," the 2008 book by J. Kluger. He writes:

"Electronic devices ... have gone mad. It is not just your TV or your camera or your twenty-seven-button cell phone with its twenty-one different screen menus and its 124-page instruction manual. ... The act of buying nearly any electronic product has gone from the straightforward plug-and-play experience it used to be to a laborious, joy-killing experience in unpacking, reading, puzzling out, configuring, testing, cursing, reconfiguring, stopping altogether to call the customer support line, then calling again an hour or two later, until you finally get whatever it is you've bought operating in some tentative configuration that more or less does all the things you want it to do--at least until some error message causes the whole precarious assembly to crash and you have to start it all over again. ... "
After elaborating on this topic (for several pages), the author concludes that "there's necessarily complex and then there's absurdly complex." What he does not analyze, at least in the chapter I am reading, is the effect all this may have on the minds of our push-button youngsters. Push-button experience is very different from building radios, repairing grandfather clocks, tractors, cars, etc. Will the effect be positive or negative? What do you think?

Ludwik Kowalski,

Forum for Physics Educators