One of Britain’s leading inventors has warned that a ‘Google generation’ who rely on the internet for everything are in danger of becoming ‘brain-dead’.
Trevor Baylis, who invented the wind-up radio, said children are losing creativity and practical skills because they spend too much time in front of screens.
The 75-year-old said he fears that the next generation of inventors is being lost, with young people often unable to make anything with their hands.
But he said children could rediscover vital skills if schools used Meccano and other practical toys.
Mr Baylis said: ‘Children have got to be taught hands-on, and not to become mobile phone or computer dependent.
‘They should use computers as and when, but there are so many people playing with their computers nowadays that spend all their time sitting there with a stomach.
‘They are dependent on Google searches. A lot of kids will become fairly brain-dead if they become so dependent on the internet, because they will not be able to do things the old-fashioned way.’
Recalling how his career had its roots in the very different world in which he grew up, he said he was about five or six years old when he began to invent devices. ‘During the war, when I was not at school I used to go out and collect the rubbish,’ said Mr Baylis.
‘One day I was out and went to this house around the corner from where I grew up in Southall, Middlesex, and this lady said, “I’ve got a box of stuff for you Trev, you’d better get a wheelbarrow.” So I picked up this thing and on the way back I was intrigued and I looked inside and it turned out to be a huge Meccano set.
‘If I wanted to make a five-wheeled motor car then I could, or a forklift truck. And that’s really what it is about, because that stays with you all of your life.’
The inventor, who was awarded the OBE in 1997, believes that simple challenges in schools using tools such as Meccano model kits would give children invaluable skills.
He said: ‘With Meccano you could do your own reproduction of, say, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
‘If you brought Meccano back into primary or secondary schools then you’d have class one against class two – you’ve got four hours to make the Sydney Harbour Bridge and we’ll see which one is the strongest.’
Many of Mr Baylis’s inventions have been gadgets to help the disabled.
He recalled how much of his motivation came from an accident when he was working as a circus stunt man.
He said: ‘I did an underwater escape act in a Berlin circus in 1970. When I was in the circus I had a very passionate affair with an aerial ballet star, a lovely girl from Vienna.
‘One night, she bounced off the net and hit the side and died halfway through the show and it broke my heart.
‘I suddenly realised disability is only a banana skin away.’
Mr Baylis still has a workshop where he works on his inventions at his home in Twickenham, south-west London. He is currently lobbying the Government to do more to protect the intellectual property of inventors.
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