Gippslandia #06 - Book Review - Tinkering

Tinkering: Australians reinvent DIY culture.

When I received a copy of Tinkering to read, I was really excited. My wonderful husband is a tinkerer, so I saw the value in this book straight away.

Tinkerers are those among us who devote their time to “adapt, invent, mend, create, modify, repurpose, renovate, improvise and build” from whatever they have to hand. They are material problem solvers and the things that they build and fix are truly remarkable. They tinker to save money, save the environment, be resourceful, improve on an existing product, or when it doesn’t exist, build one from scratch. Their stories are as diverse and interesting as their inventions are amazing.

But it’s Katherine’s insight into why people tinker and the cultural ramifications of tinkering that really make this book valuable.

In the drive to make things cheaper and easier to manufacture, our choices have been reduced and sometimes removed altogether. Not only that, but our modern day regulatory and design restrictions such as; shrink-wrap clauses, licence contracts, warranty waivers, planned obsolescence and non-replaceable parts, are all there to dissuade us from fixing things ourselves. We have been deliberately disempowered and disconnected from the things we use.

The implication of this disconnection with products is what contributes to our consumer lifestyle, where, we are willing to throw away things to replace them with the latest model. While this consumer way of life is marketed to us as “convenient”, it also contributes to our landfill, pollution and other environmental and ethical issues.

The convenience to has implications for our skills. Because we are not encouraged to build and fix things for ourselves, we have a growing culture of “learned helplessness”.

Whereas tinkering and the DIY culture, put skills and choice back into people’s hands, encouraging them to reconnect with products and value them.

As Katherine follows the stories of several tinkers, she observes that there are many benefits to tinkering. Personal growth through the gaining of knowledge and skills. Appreciation for craftsmanship, product quality and functionality. Increased creativity and innovation are driven by the need to be resourceful and use what comes to hand. Being resourceful and not wasteful then leading to ethical considerations. At the core of it all though, is the value of being personally involved with, and responsible for, a product.

The implications of being personally responsible for the building, repairing or improving a product, are more far-reaching than I could have imagined. It takes us beyond the pure functionality of an object and gives us a relationship with it, (as anyone who has ever built or repaired something will know). Katherine argues that we have that same relationship with people. When a person is sick or broken, we don’t just throw them away. We care for them and try to repair them or at the very least, repurpose them. This is the attitude of connection, not disconnection, and care for both humanity and objects. Further to that, it’s what builds community.

Tinkering fosters that attitude of care and connection, bringing both people and objects together with common value.

To quote Monash University Publishing, “Tinkering …mounts a surprising case for the profound value of domestic tinkering in contemporary Australia.” It moves us to examine our disconnected consumer attitudes and see the value in both people and objects.


Tinkering: Australians reinvent DIY culture has been reviewed by Andrea Kinsmith of Reader’s Emporium, Traralgon, readersemporium.com.au. Visit Andrea & Mark when selecting your next gripping read.

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