The Most Difficult Technical Lesson

I read the following in Neil Gershenfeld’s book Fab and thought it worth posting here:

Etienne found that the most difficult technical lesson to teach was imagination. He could see the possibilities lurking within technological junk, but he had a hard time conveying to students how to put the pieces back together short of actually doing it himself. This problem inspired Etienne to turn to the same kind of three-dimensional CAD software that Frank Gehry and Larry Sass were using. He taught his students how to make a virtual version of their studio, freeing them to assemble simulated parts.

Gershenfeld isn’t referring to the same kind of “virtual” to which I often refer on this blog – though they’re essentially the same thing imo. What this person was doing was providing 3D CAD tools which were the virtual studios the students were using.

I found this quote especially relevant given my recent post (reLink) regarding what I take to be an arrogant attitude by those old-timers within the CAD community who dismiss out-of-hand online virtual worlds (such as Second Life) which effectively teach average people the rudiments of modeling in 3D. It’s all too easy to dismiss SL’s toolsets today, but had something like SL existed in the late 80’s, I guarantee you it’d be taken much more seriously.

Tomorrow’s programmers and engineers are arguably more likely to be inspired by videogames than science and math classes in school. There’s no reason to believe socially-oriented virtual worlds with 3D modeling capabilities won’t inspire the next wave of CAD technicians and designers.

There’s a danger in taking oneself too seriously, and I suspect that is what’s happening inside a portion of the professional 3D CAD community. As Gershenfeld says, the most difficult technical lesson isn’t knowing which set of commands to click on inside the CAD interface, it’s developing the imagination to solve spatially-oriented problems. And there’s more to spur the imagination inside a socially-oriented 3D application than in one used by an isolated individual sitting alone in a corner cubicle.