When dad was growing up (and before), if his generation wanted something, they built it, repaired it and/or rebuilt it until it simply wore out. Starting with his generation and into mine, we could buy things, but we would repair them. Beginning with my generation, and now fully grown in the current one, complex expensive electronic equipment is considered disposable, not worth repairing.
Thus, students today are very good at using technology and scientific instrumentation, but most have absolutely zero ability in troubleshooting problems and no interest in learning it. In their minds, it is easier just to throw it away and buy something new.
They are very proficient and learn new technology quickly, but primarily as users, not tinkerers, or shade tree electrical engineers. Granted, the technology is geared to be very user friendly, and this is good. Yet, it seems to stifle curiosity about the man behind the curtain.
The technology is more advanced. The ghost in the machine is more ghostly, yet the apathy it engenders extends to simpler systems. In a fair number of cases, it even appears to extend to quality of life. People seem more polarized, but they have not necessarily contemplated their positions with the depth their passion would indicate.
I struggle in my teaching labs with how to encourage an interest in peering under the hood. I am convinced it will not only help them in their careers and even lives, but also society as a whole. Recently, there was some acrimony between political personalities regarding which candidates “bought their own groceries.” In other words, do they know how the real world works?
The further removed we become from the fundamental workings of life (our food production, our water production, the functioning and repair of our machines) the more fragile the foundation of our civilization. This is not hyperbole. We may be able to do exceptionally high level things, yet we are made of dust. We are created in this life to be connected to the earth, and we cut our ties to it at our peril.
We have got to immerse our progeny in our origins so that their lofty future is well grounded. This is a paradox, and yet I believe it to be true.