One of the things that fascinates me is the social change that is driven by the internet and internet services.
Once upon a time we would answer practical problems in one of two ways:
1. Ask someone we trusted
The question would normally be to our mum or dad or to that a practical friend who knows how to do anything. Their proximity would allow them to show us how to do something in person, or talk us through it over the phone. Sometimes their answer would be to talk to someone else that they know who is practical in a particular way: “Talk to your grandma she’s really good at buttonholes.”; “Ask Eddie he knows how to protect a Koi pond from herons.”; “Ask Mary she’s good for advice on home automation systems.”
As a result our wisdom was limited by their knowledge, or the knowledge of the people that they know. What’s more we only knew if their knowledge was any good when we tried what they suggested. We had to decide whether to try what the suggested by judging their level of confidence in their knowledge. I suspect we’ve all had friends who’ve confidently told us to do something that has later turned out to be the last thing we should have done.
This was the normal way of finding out how to do something.
2. Go to the library or take a course
If we needed to know something outside the knowledge of the individuals we trust we may go as far as to do some formal research. This research would have mandated a trip to the local library and wading through reference manuals and the like. In extreme cases we may even take a course on how to do something, but this was only for the truly dedicated.
This was not the normal way of finding out how to do something, it was only used in exceptional circumstances.
Along comes YouTube (other video sources are available)
For many YouTube has now replaced your mum, dad and practical friend. it’s even replaced the library and training courses for some.
I’ve had two situations recently where this was the case:
Windscreen Washer Failure
It’s been an interesting winter here in the UK with different whether each day, switching from warm and wet to bitterly cold. Windscreen washers have, therefore, become a vital part of road travel, when the washer in the car that my wife drives failed it was important that it was fixed.
My first instinct was that it was just a fuse problem so opened up the in-car manual to see which one, only to discover that the windscreen washer wasn’t listed. Fortunately YouTube had most of the answer – someone called Andy Robertson had experienced exactly the same problem and posted a video. I say most of the answer because the fuse box that Andy shows isn’t quite the same as the one that’s in our Polo, but it did allow me to know that it was a 7.5 amp fuse and following a short process of illumination to find the one that had blown.
iPhone Charging Problem
I’ve been struggling to charge my iPhone recently – I’d plug a lightening cable into it and leave it, when I came back to it later the cable would be slightly out of the socket and no charging will have taken place. Having tried a number of different cables I realised that the problem was with the socket in the iPhone itself, not the cables. Going to the Apple Store to get it fixed sounded like an expensive proposition so I took to YouTube for help. It wasn’t long before I found a set of videos from people all telling me that it was likely to be dust and/or lint in the mechanism and simply to get a pin and dig it out. Putting a metal thing into a charging point didn’t sound like a good idea, but the basic idea worked a treat and now my phone stays plugged in.
I’m not sure which of my practical friends would have known to do that, mu parents certainly wouldn’t.
The New Normal
These are a couple of personal examples of what I think is the new normal way of working out how to do something, but it’s not just me. The car fuse video has been watched over 27,000 times, the iPhone one nearly 700,000 times. A friend recently used another YouTube video to work out how to get a broken headphone jack out of an iPad. Another friend gives overviews of his allotment that people use to get advice on the technicalities of an allotment and allotment life.
I wonder how many of the 1 billion hours of YouTube video that is watched every day is so helping people with their how do I questions?