robot-building.jpgUnderstanding something is key if you want to change it. Kerkez, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The first PC revolution was the work of tinkerers and enthusiasts who built their own machines from kits, or from the ground up. But for most people, that connection between technology and the make-it-yourself ethic is long gone.

That's understandable; once a product reaches mass-market status it's much cheaper and easier to buy the finished item rather than build it. Who wants to worry about which components fit onto which motherboard?

Of course, this isn't just a tech issue: many of us own cars without knowing how to do much more than fill them up, and maybe pump up the tyres.

But the danger is that, where once we were actively involved with our devices, we have now become passive consumers of the technology that's playing an ever-bigger role in society.

We use technology constantly, but generally pay very little attention to how it's made, what's inside it or what else it might be doing apart from what we've asked of it. Only when things go badly wrong -- as in the recent outcry over Facebook data[1] -- do we start to pay attention.

The problem is broader than just social media: we've left the details of our PCs and other gadgets to the big tech companies, who have provided a steady set of updates and improvements. But one downside is that PCs and other devices have become increasingly hard repair, or even open; these are often now sealed units with no possibility to fix or upgrade. That's great for the tech makers; the less you can see inside a device the more likely you are to believe the marketing and the hype. Less good

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