Occasionally when I walk through our building here at work to get to the cafeteria, I walk past some work areas where we have people making things. They probably have a fancy word for it, fabrication or some such. But it is cool. This one little work area I walk past, they have 4 or 5 pegboards full of some sort of little tool bits. I don’t know what they are – they may be cutting bits or burning bits or something I’ve never seen before. But there’s hundreds of them, all hanging there neatly organized and ready to use. And there on the benches are pieces of plastic and metal that people are working on. Cutting, shaping, joining.
My job is much more abstract. I write software. That means I sit and type things into a computer, and trust the computer to translate those words into more abstract code. When you get down to it, this stuff is just little 0s and 1s encoded as magnetic fields on a computer disk. Then I go down to the lab, and squirt those little magnetic fields into a very expensive piece of computing equipment, which causes pictures to come up on a screen once we squirt some more data (electrical impulses) into the back of the equipment. It’s fantastic. It’s complex. At times, it’s very cool – we can accomplish very complicated things very quickly and efficiently. But at times, it feels a bit empty; there’s nothing real solid I can point to at the end of the day and say “I made that”. The constant abstraction makes it that much more meaningful for me to walk the halls and see real things being made.
I don’t know what it is about the way we’re wired, but I, for one, occasionally need to see, feel, hold real stuff. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a big geek, I love technology, I could explain our flight displays to you from the processor and hardware all the way up through the application software, and every level in between. But there are times when I just need to get my hands on something real. We bought a new washing machine last night, and I need to build a pedestal for it. Maybe this weekend I can go out and do some building myself.