Being a Tinkerer

A tinkerer is seen as someone who is nerdy and touches a lot of subjects and activities. One day they are brewing gin, another day they are coding a project. They seem to be all over the place and lack a direction. They are adrift at sea, looking for the next shiny thing and are aloof about the concept of consistency and long-term thinking. However, in this essay, I will explain why being a tinkerer is not just a good thing but the thing that will improve society for the better and I will give concrete examples.

We all know Isaac Newton, he is the scientist of the 17th century who came up with calculus and the laws of gravity. He wrote the famous book, Principia Mathematica. He is considered the epitome for the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. We know him for his famous works mentioned above but most people don't know about the things that led to these great works. It is not commonly known but Sir Isaac Newton was a very devout Christian. So devout that he tasked himself to figure out the last day when Jesus would come back by studying the Bible. He would use all kinds of mathematics and formulas, based on how the Bible was written, to figure out this date. Of course, he did not succeed. He was also part of some interesting cults, which sort to uncover and preserve sacred knowledge, which was quite mystical and occult in nature. There is a lot to this man called Isaac Newton because he tried so many things. However, we only remember him for his great works. I would strongly argue that his curiosity was the base of his great works. By trying out multiple things, it was probable that a few of these works would become great. This is the power of curiosity and the results of tinkering.

Another great example is the origins of the Gameboy, a popular, yet simple handset that allowed people to play pixeled games on the go. The creator, Gunpei Yokoi who worked at Nintendo, saw that calculator technology was quite advanced and he thought it could do more than just adding and multiplying numbers. With his background and passion for gaming, he decided to modify the calculator technology to play simple and enjoyable games like Tetris. As the story goes, he produced them and they sold off the selves to become the 4th best-selling game console of all time with 118 million sold. They are a cultural phenomenon to date. This is a great example of tinkering, based on the concept of lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is the ability to think creatively and outside of the box, and this inventor's use of calculator technology for gaming is a perfect example of that. Instead of just accepting calculators for their intended purpose, he saw their potential for something more and used his skills and passion to create a new and innovative product. This kind of lateral thinking can lead to unexpected and groundbreaking ideas, as it challenges traditional ways of thinking and pushes boundaries.

To become a tinkerer, the prerequisite is to have the curiosity to dive into new and interesting topics, based on your current interests and apply them in your life. It is not enough to just know these new ideas, they have to be expressed in your world. Curiosity plus action is the key. Too often, you will find very knowledgeable people with great ideas, but they have nothing to show for these great ideas. Ideas are a dime in a dozen, what is scarce is the execution of those ideas into the world.

This essay was inspired by my sister, who is clearly a tinkerer. She has a lot of interesting projects like brewing her own alcohol by fermenting fruits to growing a variety of house plants. She is following her interests and it is fascinating to watch. For me, I have been tinkering with building a knowledge base using Obsidian, exploring AI projects and writing a blog about my interests. Tinkering comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be based on art, technology, writing, science and so on. The goal is to follow the rabbit-hole of your desires and see where that leads. When you get a spark of inspiration or learn about something exciting, you should dive deep into that topic and implement it as soon as possible.

To become an effective tinkerer, you need to reduce the amount of time between getting a spark of interest and acting upon that interest. The problem of taking too long is that the interest dies out as you procrastinate. Think of it as a beautifly, it lands on your head and it sparks an idea. If you wait too long, the beautifly will fly away and go somewhere else. It will usually not come back. However, if you engage that beautifly and play around with it, it will like it and stay with you. That gives you ample time to study it and see all its patterns and features. Eventually it will fly away but at least you have admired it and extracted something from it. Replace the beautiful with an idea.

The results of being a tinkerer cannot be ignored. Isaac Newton is considered one of the greatest scientists to ever live and the Gameboy is the 4th best-selling video game console of all time. Successful tinkerers can be found everywhere. Mark Zuckerberg made FaceSmash, a website to compare people's attractiveness before building Facebook. Elon Musk built a game and sold it for $500 when he was just 10 years old. Thomas Edison had 1093 US patents and he is best known for the light bulb and the phonograph. Tinkerers can be successful people. I would even go as far as to say, and I can be challenged, that successful people are tinkerers. They are always meddling with new ideas and seeing how they can give them a competitive advantage or how cool it is at least.

With that said, I invite all people to become tinkerers and delve into the rabbithole of their own interests. When you learn something, create something out of it. In this world of abundance information, don't get lost in simple consumption but become immersed in the creation process. Read Go Ahead, Scroll your Life Away, it really shows how consumption can degrade your creative spirit. Resist it and become a creator. Become a tinkerer.