A Golden Age of Information

It’s been a busy week here.

Aside from slow progress on writing projects, I’ve had a stack of side work and house improvement projects to work on. I’ve repaired a half dozen computers this week (the last one is on my bench right now); my wife’s car is currently sitting torn-down in my father’s shop out on the farm; our backup car is now, fittingly, back up and running; and I have the rest of the gear coming to finish my heating project for the house expansion. Also on the to-do list is shoot a deer this weekend (closing weekend for deer season, so I’m getting short on time), and maybe get some plumbing and wiring done.

There’s actually a common theme running through all my projects (aside from deer hunting – that’s an outlier): the information age.

“Erm, Neumiller? You’re talking about mechanics and home improvement. That’s not exactly information age stuff.”

Surprisingly enough, it is.

Not many people I know offline would think of me as a real hands-on type guy. I grew up on a ranch, so hard work and working with my hands aren’t earth-shattering prospects for me, but I’m no one’s first choice when it comes to carpentry, or plumbing, or wiring, or working on a car. I’m pretty sharp at computers, but they’re a different breed than the basic hands-on skills that build and maintain our modern world.

With that said, the Information Age has made these fields far more accessible.

Looking at my various projects, in order: the wife’s car currently has the head stripped off (we thought a blown head gasket, but it was a burned valve and we still don’t know where the coolant’s going) due to plenty of informational videos about the 2.2 engine that’s shared between plenty of vehicles (Sunfire, Cavalier, S-10 pickup). The backup car was a pretty easy job that didn’t require extraneous information (a battery change along with the ends on both leads). The new heating system was designed by reading extensively online on the radiant floor heating I wanted to put in, including both drawbacks and strengths. Electrical and plumbing are both fairly straightforward projects, but there’s plenty of information for consulting (which I need to do on occasion) when I’m not sure about best practices.

That is the world we live in – a world where we can find all the information we need to do so many projects with our own two hands.

Never in the history of the human race has so much information been so readily available at our fingertips.

And we use it to 1.) look at pictures of funny cats or 2.) look at porn.

Kind of a sad commentary on the human condition, isn’t it?

The knowledge is only as useful as our willingness to put it to work. All those Youtube videos of practical skills and projects (which I’ve been consulting heavily for automotive work; between the cracked head on the Jeep and the work I’ve done on the Sunfire, I’ve probably watched four to five hours of instructional videos along this year) are useless if we don’t do it ourselves.

It must be four years ago already when I had a conversation with an overseas friend. He was caught in the same trap many people my age put themselves in: overspent, in debt, and stuck where he was because he couldn’t afford to do anything else.

We spoke at length about the way we had chosen to structure our lives: we purchased used vehicles, not new; we didn’t spring for the latest and greatest electronics; we regularly were paying down our student debt; we forewent eating out regularly and cooked meals at home; we purchased an old house in tough shape and put in hours to fix it up ourselves. And so forth – we didn’t have the fanciest toys, nor the biggest house, nor the newest phones – but we were working to make our lives better.

At the time, I didn’t think it had made a difference – my experience was that most people didn’t want to hear phrases like “Do it yourself instead of hiring it” and “Sacrifice now to make things better later”.

A year back, the same friend reached out to me and thanked me for the advice I’d given. He told me it was some of the best advice he’d ever gotten, and after following it he found options opening up for him that he’d never had available before.

I’ve gotten a bit far afield from where I started, but remember this, if nothing else: You have access to more knowledge than any generation before you. Use it, and you can make your life better.

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