Trained operators standing by

I have yet to ride a Lime Scooter, but when it comes to the internet, boy was I an early and enthusiastic adopter. Back then there was just a solitary guy at Telecom responsible for keeping their internet service going from an office in Airedale St in Auckland, and there was a guy at Waikato University in charge of allocating all the .nz domain names. “Well, he can’t have,” he told my internet provider, “that's not his registered business name!”

Thanks, irritable university guy, for doing me a huge backhanded favour compelling me to go get the domain name instead and branch out into the US market, leading to many years of prosperous trading.

In those early years, though, you would show the internet to your friends and they would look at you with a bemused expression as the dial-up modem ran squawking up and down the scale trying to secure its tenuous connection. “Why?” they would ask me. “What’s the point, exactly?”

And I would say: “I bet you before long there will be at least 10 useful things you can do on this and when that happens everyone will want one.”

Sure enough, the internet grew and grew and changed everything and fascinating thrilling momentous things happened. It also made things altogether more challenging for me and many of my friends in journalism to make a living, but that's a story for another column.

But let’s accentuate the positive. YouTube! At first it looked like nothing so much as a device for piracy, as everyone dived in and started sharing movies and tv shows and it could have all ended up in court but for some canny licensing negotiations that worked out just fine for the YouTube people, but not nearly so well for, say, Kim Dotcom, but that's also a story for another column.

But YouTube, what a revelation. Its true gift to the world is not music clips or movies but the humble how-to video. They're not beautifully made, they don't have a polished script, no-one has dressed up fancy like they would for an Instagram photo, it's just people who really know what they are doing, generously sharing their expertise so you can do something better with you musical instrument, your drop saw, your e-scooter or whatever calls for a little more skill than you possess.

We have an electronic piano that made a lovely sound but developed some not-so-quiet or beautiful key thuds that quite ruined the sound. “Better get that looked at,” I would say to myself, and do nothing. But one day I thought, “let’s ask my old mate the internet what might be wrong.” In just a few clicks I was watching a YouTube video of my exact model of Yamaha Clavinova and two nice chaps from somewhere in England were explaining that when it starts thudding like mine you have to strip out the felts. This they proceeded to show me how to do, step by step, screw by actual screw, and then put it all back together and, reader, you wouldn't believe how good my piano sounds once more.

I turn to YouTube all the time now. Just yesterday, I learned the best way to deal with a stripped screw hole in MDF is to jam in three toothpicks. Snap them off, then back in goes the screw. Perfect tight fit. Somehow I had managed to live half a lifetime without knowing how roadies roll up thousands of meters of cables using the over/under method of looping. You should see how good my electric extension cords look now, hanging flat and true on the garage wall.

But not everyone has my knack for YouTube. Mum was in the bank the other day, asking how to do something. The teller told her brusquely she could do it online. Mum said to her: “I’m sorry. I'm 84. I find all this computer stuff very hard.” Suddenly the teller’s expression softened, she swung her screen round to Mum and took her through the steps she needed to take. Mum’s heart lifted.

There is a school of economic thought that we all thrive on competition and sharp elbows. I believe in fact there's something about reaching out to someone who needs it and helping that brings out the very best in us, whether that’s the generous advice sharers on YouTube or the person sometimes just sitting in front of you.

Merry Christmas!

David Slack is an Auckland-based author, radio and TV commentator and speechwriter.

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