What is tinkering? As Katherine Wilson makes clear in Tinkering: Australians reinvent DIY culture, there is an easy answer to that question – but also several complex ones.
At the physical level, tinkering is what the protagonists in Wilson’s book do: they convert cars to run on vegetable oil; they build their homes by hand and perfect quince jam. One tinkerer whom Wilson profiles made a pedal-powered Random Excuse Generator; another fashioned a block of wood and slate to the exact proportions of an iPhone. Tinkering is the informal repair, improvement, and hacking of objects – and is an unconventional area for academic study. Wilson says that she feels ‘like the square-kid trying to codify the cool-kids’ fun’. But she needn’t worry; her writing is upbeat and delightful. Throughout the book we sense the rapport and deep care she develops for her subjects (one tinkerer died during Wilson’s research; the book is dedicated to him).