Showing the Screws

I recently bought a new “go fast” project car: a 1996 Corvette.

My C4 Corvette about to get rained on (or maybe just my camera’s “dramatic” filter).

I bought it because I enjoy working on cars and making things go faster. Plus, it’s a good excuse to spend time with my dad, who also enjoys those things.

Not long after I bought it, I got frustrated by the 20-year old car’s lack of a USB port for charging my phone (first world problem, I know).

I set out to fix that, even though I assumed that installing a USB port would be a major headache. If you’ve worked in the dashboard area on any modern vehicle, you understand why I was dreading the process.

And if you haven’t, it’s a tedious, complicated test of perseverance that involves prying off interior panels, messing with custom fasteners, finding a power source, and then somehow finding a way to mount the jack in a nice location.

I decided to do it anyway.

Here’s What I Found

When I got started, I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered right away: dozens of screws holding the various bits together.

What a crazy idea!

No hidden clips, no glued-on components, no “proprietary screws”. Just regular old-fashioned Phillips screws; the kind that literally anyone could work with.

Screws! Glorious screws! (and some surprisingly metric bolts)

It made things simple. And it reminded me of the days when, as a kid, I would take apart anything I could to see how it worked, fix it, or just try and make it better. When I was growing up, those easy-to-see screws were in everything: Walkmans, Gameboys, desktop computers, game consoles — really any consumer product you could think of.

That meant that curious kids like me could confidently take any of these machines apart, put them back together, and even “mod” them.

Through all this tinkering, I got an inside-out understanding of the devices and machines I used every day. Without a doubt, this tinkering habit — this hands-on learning — was a major reason I went into technology as a career.

Technology Doesn’t Look Like That Today

In most of today’s devices, those Phillips screws are long gone.

They’ve been replaced with advanced manufacturing processes that prevent people from attempting to crack open their electronics devices. Sometimes in the name of aesthetics, and often in the name of IP protection.

A whole generation is now growing up assuming that their devices are black boxes, beyond their ability to understand, fix, or improve. Without a taste of taking something apart, and putting it back together better than ever, how will we get them interested in building new things?

I’m not suggesting we turn back the clock on technology. Complex electronics like airbags and anti-lock brakes benefit everyone — and these aren’t features people without proper training should take apart.

Kids today might not be taking apart their parent’s iPads, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could? (does anyone use them any more anyway?)

But even as everyday devices become more of a black box to us, there are other tremendous learning opportunities that most of us could never have dreamed of.

Phillips Screws Aren’t Coming Back (Sadly)

The days where all of our technology was held together with Phillips screws aren’t coming back.

But that doesn’t mean the next generation can’t fall in love with technology the way many of us did. The tools, events, and opportunities are out there. We just have to be intentional about providing kids with the chance to fall in love with the way things work.

I’m glad to see higher enrollment rates in science and engineering fields, but I worry that some of these young people getting into the field mostly on the promise of good jobs and good money after they graduate. That’s fine for what it’s worth.

But what I really want — and what I see as the basis for the very best makers we’ve hired at MojoTech — is people who choose science and engineering because it’s their calling.

We need the enthusiasts.

They are the ones who will do more than just show up at their job — they’ll be the innovators, and they’ll be the ones who contribute to the community at large. These are the people I love to work with!