Anyone concerned over the future of American engineering isn’t listening to teenage boys these days.
The voices coming from my family room aren’t quibbling about heist movies or cop shows anymore. Now, it’s all about scientific, how-to-do it programs. Blaring from the room are TV shows about how to make cymbals and the careful path of metal sheeting into pressurized gas cylinders (HowStuffWorks). There’s a weekly show on what ordinary processes (especially explosions) look like in slow motion (Time Warp). There’s the program about the physics and mechanics of escaping from traps of one’s own devising (One Way Out). A group of engineers and scientists are driven to invent something to prevent a huge accident (Smash Lab); in another program the team races to prototype their idea before their funding clock stops (Prototype This). And of course there’s Myth Busters, the program that set up the de rigueur components of these shows: blue-prints drawn on the screen, “a bald guy” my son says, wacky antics, and some darn good science. (Just as heartening is the fact if the cast has more than three members the team usually includes a woman and is nearly always multi-racial).
There’s an astounding amount of engineering being discussed on television these days and my boys can tout the physics of it, the logic of the construction. They’re memorizing compression theories and this is even before Man vs. Wild comes on and the survivalist-biology/physiology starts, telling them how to find north with their watches and the sun; that pine needles in hot water are a source of vitamin C; which plants will filter piss, build a hut or smoke oysters. I watch every one of these shows with delight, letting them feed my fascination with the world and I don’t feel too guilty about letting boys lounge around on sofas: this is constructive stuff, literally.
Of course their favorites are still shows in which idiots subjecting themselves to high-speed disaster on children’s bikes and there’s a new one (Nitro Circus) to give us more Jackasses and people being punk’d but I’m heartened by teenagers debating engineering techniques and doing themselves proud by their ability to remember the relative combustion point of this and that. It bodes well for product development, for the battle against global warming, for the fight to stay relevant in a global economy… and it doesn’t even come with a laugh-track.
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