I’ll never forget the first time I realized the power of the internet. My son was attending school in St. Louis, we were living in Texas, and I received a call from him one afternoon. He was running errands in his car and was having an issue with one of his tires. He asked me if I could help him find a tire place nearby so he could have it looked at. (I was always proud I taught my kids how to change a tire, among other things, to help them in the world. I was glad he called me for help and excited to find information he needed.)
I told him to hold on while I get the St. Louis Yellow Pages (i.e., the telephone book containing the business listings) and a street map of St. Louis. (We had lived in St. Louis for 6 years and, of course, I had kept an old copy of these items on the bookshelf.) Before I could retrieve these items, my son said “Hold on Dad, are you near your computer?” “Yes” I replied, and he said “Dad, just google ‘tire repair for zip code xxxxx and tell me what it says.” I did as he asked, read him the results, and asked if he needed directions – he laughed and said, “No, I’ve got this, thanks Dad.” Suddenly I realized all the tools I would have used to solve this problem were obsolete, actually “ancient”.
Until this moment, I had not realized how powerful the internet was and since then, I’ve continued to be amazed at the amount of information that is out there. Recently I queried the internet when the light went out inside our electric clothes dryer – the dryer also stopped working. Turns out the switch inside the door that turns off the light is interconnected with the drying circuitry. Replacing the part required (1) figuring out how to “open” the dryer, which was easily explained in a 5-minute YouTube video – something I would have never figured out; (2) order the part, (3) install it in about 10 minutes, and I was back in business – without calling someone to repair it. My son-in-law shared a similar story for fixing a seal on their washing machine concluding “Knowing nothing about how washing machines work, I was able to fix it after watching a YouTube video.”
There’s something very satisfying about fixing something that is broken, instead of simply replacing it. For one thing, it’s good for the environment. It lessens the amount of stuff that ends up in landfills. It results in less energy expended that would be required to make the “new” one. But there’s also something satisfying from a psychological perspective – like being independent – in control of the environment, instead of dependent on someone else to make our world function. Doing projects like this also reinforces our self-esteem, our worth and value. I recently watched a 20-minute Ted Talk video featuring Matthew Crawford in which he talks about the importance of being able to fix things and be competent with your hands. It’s entitled Manual Competency and, in addition to describing the value of working with your hands, it also highlights how dependent we, as a society, have become when compared to the past generation. It’s interesting and worth a watch.
It’s frustrating when something breaks but the manner in which we deal with it is a choice. We can get upset and feel awful, or we can choose to take charge and determine if it is something we can fix (with a little research). Based on that investigation, we determine if it is something we can tackle or, if it is beyond our pay grade, we can call someone who has the competence to take care of it. Regardless of which we do, by doing the research first, we can feel good about making an informed choice instead of feeling dependent.
I’m often surprised at the things young people don’t know or understand, and it concerns me that they are too dependent on technology. For example, being able to read a road map for directions might be a useful skill if you’re lost on the highway without internet access, or have a dead phone battery. But the things these young people know and understand better than I do, is also surprising. The world is an exciting place; keep your eyes open, and an open mind, and you just might learn something. I learned how to roll sushi from my 10-year old granddaughter last week, and it reminded me of the time my son taught me how to find the closest tire repair shop in a distant city, without my beloved Yellow Pages.