Ask Charlie: Men tinker for attention |

Ask Charlie: Men tinker for attention

Robert Valko
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –It really should come as no surprise that some men are prone to mindlessly drifting into their garages in a me-must-tinker-now-trance.

Once in the kingdom of power tools and the extra fridge (fully stocked with Budweiser, of course), they’re free to erect defense shields against incoming missiles and plan evacuation routes for the lands they survey, including their toy train sets. Or, if they live in the south, they may even get crackin’ on that motorcycle that they’ve been wanting to build out of 2 x 4’s.

If time allows, some guys might even work overtime and draw up blueprints for a waterbed that makes waves by remote control – to impress the babes, of course.

Indeed, once the manly tool belt has been strapped on, the stars have come into alignment and each man knows what his mission in this life is. His purpose is well within reach. Hopefully, it extends beyond the fridge handle.

Too much time on the average American male’s hands? Maybe. But tinkering is quite possibly a inclination that has carried over from a time when the species Homo-want-some-action-but-had-no-game was experimenting with ways to get noticed.

About 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors started forming naturally hardened materials (flint, bone, quartz, and phonolite) into various shapes, points, tips, and weapons. At some point over the last few hundred thousand years, they also started to carve designs into these hunting devices, which are called hand axes in the world of paleoanthropology. They used these tools for making other tools, bringing down prey and, quite possibly, for impressing the ladies.

But it wasn’t just about creativity. Women would keep an eye on how diligently men hunted and how little they boasted about their hunting skills, as well as scrutinizing them for other traits that may have qualified them as good partners for procreation.

Such behaviors -the kind that resulted in the production of artifacts that enhanced survival and held an aesthetic flair – may have also been precursors to the Martha Stewart line at K-Mart and other forms of high art.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that the human tendency to engage in creative pursuits is a direct product of a guy’s need to self-promote. They may be onto something. Males have produced a lot of the world’s art. The beautification of every day objects was one way to get noticed without overtly drawing attention to one’s self.

It just might be that the certain members of the species Homo-not-tonight-I-have-a-headache were so impressed with the delightful collections of rock and bone that pint-sized wobblers appeared nine months later. More realistically, their creations may have kick-started a very long courtship process.

It’s also possible that these first excursions into sculpting were the stepping-stones to the Mona Lisa, Impressionism, the Guggenheim and numerous other human artistic pursuits. Tinkering may be a product of sexual selection: evolutionary pressure to attract mates.

Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University and currently is writing two books on evolutionary psychology. E-mail Robert with column ideas at

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