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Photos: The astonishing hidden complexity inside our sleek tech gadgets

John Monastero
Guts of a mouse.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

With the emphasis on minimalist product design today, it’s easy to forget the incredible maze of tiny bolts, screws, and engineered components that go into every gadget.

This notion struck New York-based hobby photographer John Monastero while working on the engine of his motorcycle four years ago. He marveled at the precise engineering of a carburetor that allows just the right amount of fuel for an engine to run—or the genius design of the lesser-known starter solenoid which is needed to start nearly all motor vehicles.

John Monastero
iPhone surgery.
John Monastero
Keyboard kit-of-parts

In an ongoing photo series called “Hidden Complexities,” Monastero meticulously dismantles various gadgets around his house—broken tablets, old mobile phones, even an Amazon Echo—and creates eye-popping tableaus of industrial design wizardry. One image showing a spaghetti-tangle of Apple earpod parts recalls Jackson Pollock’s splatter painting at quick glance.

John Monastero
Earpods, untangled.

Taking the photographs is half the joy. Monastero describes the process of breaking down objects as a kind of meditation. “It can sometimes take a full day to dismantle an object and I try to comprehend all of its components,” he tells Quartz. “I take time to closely examine the pieces so they might retain their condition for the photo at the end. Throughout this process, I get to understand how all of the pieces interact with each other which ultimately helps me understand its design.”

John Monastero
Calculator count.

Monastero says he also delights in cracking open obsolete technology like CD players, typewriters, and cassette tape cartridges (wow).

Cassette tape cartridge complexity.

Of course, Monastero isn’t the first to perform surgery on everyday gadgets. Tech nerds, hackers and DIY repair enthusiasts have been reveling in “gear teardowns” for years. There’s now a large catalogue of YouTube teardown videos for nearly any conceivable object. Companies like iFixit disassemble objects and photograph components so customers can order individual parts. And British designer Thomas Thwaites also famously attempted to build a toaster from scratch, and discovered the 400 parts that goes into the deceptively simple appliance.

Monastero is less concerned about an accurate accounting of each electronic device. His project is more about appreciating the engineering miracle many of us take for granted, he explains. “Objects can feel like black holes even though you can hold them in your hand,” reflects Monastero. “I’ve started to understand what it takes for something to function and from there it just builds.”

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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