How Tinkerers Can Make the World Better

We somehow managed to miss this brilliant TED Talk by Vinay Venkatraman when it came out, but it’s a great testimony to the ingenuity of tinkerers around the world—people who can hack together vital resources out of practically anything. In places where supplies are scarce, that can make all the difference in the world.

In the TED Talk, Venkatraman discusses Frugal Digital—a project that focuses on creating digital solutions in low resource settings. Venkatraman explains:

We do this because we actually believe that silicon technology is mostly about a culture of excess. It’s about the fastest, and the most efficient, and the most dazzling gadget you can have, while about two-thirds of the world can hardly reach the most basic of this technology to even address fundamental needs in life—including health, education, and all these kinds of very fundamental issues.

Key to bridging digital disparity in the developing world: local technicians who know how to repair, hack, and repurpose just about anything. What Venkatraman calls the “tinkering economy” is essentially a pre-Industrial approach to post-Industrial equipment: knowledge is handed down by word-of-mouth, the work happens locally, and products are created cheaply from readily available goods.

By working with local tinkerers, Frugal Digital was able to frankenstein parts from a bunch of different objects together to create tools that local doctors and teachers needed. A very basic cell phone became the heart of a multi-media platform for one-teacher schools. An alarm clock was rebuilt as an easy diagnostic tool in the medical field.

Frugal digital alarm clock

Check out the full video about for your daily dose of tinkering inspiration. Then get out your tools and make something.