The

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken [email protected]

As the owner of an old house, I am of­ten in con­tact with tradies. When­ever the house gur­gles, jams, drips, smells or be­gins list­ing like an in­tern at a Christ­mas party, I make my way to the fridge door, select a mag­net and won­der how much, how long and, of­ten, why me?

Hir­ing a tradie feels like a work­ing-class re­venge on the own­ers of cap­i­tal ex­cept for the fact many tradies earn more than cap­i­tal­ists and knock off early when the surf’s up at their beach house. In­deed, it was when my plumber-tiler de­cided to take off on a fish­ing trip be­fore fin­ish­ing a grout­ing job that I thought: How hard could it be?

So I con­sulted YouTube and dis­cov­ered it takes four min­utes to teach a per­son how to grout tiles. By the time the tiler rang to say he’d re­turned from his fish­ing trip, I’d grouted a bath­room and saved sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars.

Since then I’ve be­come ex­pert on re­pair­ing walls, in­stalling modems, deal­ing with floor waste smells, clear­ing gut­ters (blower plus snorkel) trou­bleshoot­ing my smart­phone, op­er­at­ing new ap­pli­ances and, with a bit more prac­tice, I’ll soon be moon­walk­ing.

Ev­ery day five bil­lion peo­ple like me pick up skills from YouTube tu­to­ri­als and ev­ery day a tradie sits by the phone won­der­ing why no­body rings for those quick jobs that pay $180, plus call-out fees, and leave enough time in the sched­ule for an af­ter­noon pad­dle.

The get­ting of skills isn’t just about sav­ing money. There is a fun­da­men­tal sat­is­fac­tion in be­ing able to solve your own prob­lems. For too long peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion (OK, me) have felt over­whelmed by do­mes­tic crises; we’ve been forced to wait days or weeks for help to ar­rive, sweat­ing over the noises, sounds and smells in the mean­time; we’ve felt fool­ish when we’ve tried to de­scribe the prob­lem to the man with the tool belt and ac­cepted meekly his re­proof that, some­how, it was all our fault.

We’ve had tradie cringe for too long, so it’s no sur­prise we’re tak­ing re­venge in the dig­i­tal age, scrolling for an­swers, swot­ting video tu­to­ri­als and send­ing thumbs-up icons to mas­ters of five-minute video. We all want to be in­de­pen­dent of the ser­vice sys­tem, mas­ters of our do­main and fi­nally freed from re­liance on the fridge mag­net. And, while it feels like a per­sonal lib­er­a­tion, it’s more com­pli­cated than that.

Our claim to be ex­pert am­a­teurs isn’t con­fined to the tool shed. Across our lives we are claim­ing ex­pert sta­tus, a fact that was first picked up a decade ago in the book The Cult of the Am­a­teur and book­ended last year with The Death of Ex­per­tise. These books and oth­ers of sim­i­lar ilk de­scribe how the democrati­sa­tion of knowl­edge en­abled by the in­ter­net has made ex­perts of us or, per­haps, know-alls of us.

We are more sure of our own opin­ions, even if they are formed by Face­book feeds. We are bet­ter than the boss, even if we’ve been in the job for a cou­ple of weeks. We are dis­mis­sive of the me­dia if it doesn’t fit our world view. We are more con­fi­dent of our sci­en­tific ex­per­tise than sci­en­tists be­cause what would they know? And, yes, we are more will­ing to take our ex­per­tise from YouTube be­cause how hard can it be?

Well, some­times it is hard. Re­cently, when my old bath started shed­ding its skin, I re­alised that some jobs are sim­ply too com­plex for an on­line tu­to­rial, so I con­sulted an on­line ag­gre­ga­tor to find a tradie with the ap­pro­pri­ate skills and chose the cheapest quote. After the resur­fac­ing ex­pert had spent sev­eral hours in the bath­room, in­ter­mit­tently groan­ing and mak­ing hushed calls to a call-a-friend line, I popped my head into the bath­room to see how work was pro­gress­ing. And there was my tradie watch­ing a YouTube tu­to­rial on bath resur­fac­ing.

The re­sults are what you’d ex­pect from an on­line les­son, un­less you hap­pen to like rip­pled enamel that turns a pur­ple hue when you use blue sham­poo. The bath could be de­scribed as shabby chic or van Gogh with glau­coma (I’ve tried to pass it off as both to friends). Or it could be de­scribed as a les­son on when to call in the ex­perts. But when I step into the blue-stip­pled bath, I can’t help think­ing, how hard can it be? gmail.com

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