The Joy of Thinkering

a directory of thinkering random files

Leaving a blessed senior job full of perks and hierarchical protection has been interesting. It hasn’t been a walk in the park; a lot of detangling and unlearning required.

But one of the biggest ‘ups’ has been protecting a bit more time and space to “tinker” with things. And the realisation that when I start taking things to pieces and playing with them my brain comes alive in a way that it doesn’t when I’m purely in a theoretical / conceptual mode.

I was talking to Aaron Koblin about the importance of “hands on keyboard” time and how it’s something you typically get less and less of as you become more senior. And at some point the made-up-word “Thinkering” fell out of my mouth. I hate it for it’s twee-ness, even though it perfectly describes what I’m talking about. It’s like technology doodling. Thinking while you tinker.

Whether it’s creating an AI version of my speech patterns, making a metahuman to do my bidding in the Metaverse, hooking up an intelligent chatbot to an 0800 number, putting glitchy animated GIFs into AR, putting a 3d portal in the garden using Snapchat lens studio, creating an e-ink zine on the Kindle, using VJ software to edit video, etc.

For a while I was almost embarrassed by the list of utterly pointless hacky mini-projects that I was spinning up. None of them getting resolved. Lots of them going absolutely nowhere; certainly not to a place where they’d impress a skilled practitioner.

It’s taken me a while to realise the output isn’t what’s important. It’s the consistency and the “practice” of thinkering which is key (I don’t hate it any less the more I use it BTW).

The act of making each one of these pointless things has opened my mind to how underlying systems and technologies work. And perhaps more importantly how things fit together. It’s reminded me that pretty much everything is software. And now you can buy any part of the supply chain as a service it’s possible to code new physical realities.

In my role I don’t NEED to be able to DO any of this. But I’m certain my ideas are more interesting / more geeky / more expansive / more systematic as a result.

If anyone is interested, the areas I’ve been mostly tinkering with are:

  • ML / AI
  • 3D / Game Engines / XR
  • No-code / Lo-code
  • Automation
  • “Live”
  • GitHub (collaboration at scale)
  • Audio reactivity

And let’s not forget Web3. Sure it’s having its “crisis” moment. But isn’t this just the perfect embodiment of the hype cycle?

Whether Web3 arrives in the way the evangelists had dreamed. Or something else. At least I know some of the ups and downs of adding an NFT lock to a piece of content 😉.

If anyone fancies some kind of odd Thinkerer’s Anonymous meetup let me know 😜, especially keen to hear from equally unskilled practitioners.