Tinkerer’s Syndrome, by Alexander Gasiorowski

If a friend or a loved one displays a mechanical inclination, spends long hours messing with broken gadgets in the garage, and refuses to buy new stuff when he claims the contraption he brought back from the garage “works just fine,” that individual may be afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Yes, I just made that up. That individual is likely a tinkerer. “Why do you waste your time? You’re never going to get that thing to work properly, just buy a new one,” you may ask. Once upon a time, products were made to last and when they broke, they were repaired. This is no longer true. Many of the appliances, toys, gadgets and electronics made today are designed to be used for a time and disposed of when either a new, “better” product reaches the market, or when the item fails. Thus, it can be difficult to understand the practical motivation behind being a tinkerer; why a loved one dwells in the garage far into the wee morning hours, trying to determine why the battery charger keeps tripping the circuit breaker. To an individual to whom a broken gadget does not beckon, the mind and motivation of a tinkerer seems foreign.

Dictionary.com defines a tinkerer as: “A person skilled in various kinds of mechanical work; jack-of-all-trades.” I would further augment that definition to include all machines, mechanical, electrical, or other, not just mechanical work. A tinkerer is an individual who casually pursues an understanding of machines by means of first hand analysis or by studying the experiences of others. Being a tinkerer is similar to being a professional in a field, albeit often without formal instruction in that field. A tinkerer often takes a casual approach to technical fields and possesses the skills needed to do simple repairs or modifications to complex equipment, though the quality of work is not up to par with a professional. In a modern, disposable society, the practicality of being a tinkerer is brought into question. The primary goal of the tinkerer is not to bring the item in question back to working order. “Honey, I can fix this, you don’t have to buy a new one,” is just an excuse. Rather, the goal of the tinkerer is to expand his or her understanding the world; to learn the “how’s and why’s” of our world.

My earliest memories are of crushing my thumb with a hammer, attempting to nail together two pieces of wood at the age of two. When I was four, I would disassemble my Buzz Lightyear action figures and reassemble them, mixing and matching parts. At the age of eight, I took an interest in wiring and electricity. I studiously scoured Black and Decker’s Advanced Home Wiring and Basic Troubleshooting and Repairs manuals. Applying what I gleaned, I assembled a number of switched outlet contraptions and lighting circuits, occasionally blowing circuit breakers along the way. In each instance, my activities were not for a practical purpose, rather the goal was to gain a broader understanding of our world. Retrospectively, the questions I was seeking answers to in each of the aforementioned cases were: “How are these pieces of wood held together,” “What pieces make up my action figures,” and “Why do the lights turn on and off when I flip this switch?”

*I have acquired a number of friends I would describe as tinkerers. Like myself, they are all mechanically inclined and take an active interest in learning more about the machines that make up our world. My friends and I all have basic understanding in a wide variety of subject areas while specializing in two or three specific areas. While we are similar in that regard, we often differ in our areas of expertise. I hold an interest in cars and many types of electronics, while a tinkerer friend of mine is interested in woodworking, a field in which I have only basic understanding and minimal interest.

Being a tinkerer has led me to acquire the skills and understanding needed to repair and maintain the majority of appliances, tools, electronics, and other gadgets I own. A tinkerer’s interest in computers and electronics has led to a career in the Information Technology field. My mechanical inclination has helped me to fix and maintain my cars, vehicles with maintenance costs that would otherwise drive me bankrupt. Friends and family have benefited from the free and discounted work I’ve done on their computers, electronics, and automobiles.

If you have a friend or loved one afflicted with Tinkerer’s Syndrome, you’ve likely noticed parallels between the experiences I’ve recanted here and the experiences of that individual. Tinkerers often cannot help themselves. There is no cure for Tinkerer’s Syndrome. Buying a new toaster oven often won’t stop a tinkerer from trying to fix the old one. The best course of action is to be supportive of the endeavors of a tinkerer, understanding that the tinkerer’s goal is not to repair the gadget in question, but to learn from the attempt.



Works Cited

“Tinker” Def. 3 Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Nov. 2015. <Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/>.

Comments RSS Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.