23 May 2017 20:32 IST

The DIY-types are impacting the global economy

YouTube is a positive force in the world, changing people’s lives one person at a time

Most people think of YouTube as a destination to watch clips of songs, movies, and these days, even the news. The world’s largest video site is so popular that over a billion people use it to watch hundreds of millions of hours of videos each day, generating billions of views.

But here’s a little known use of YouTube: as a de-facto learning, training and development source for millions of users. Want to cook an Italian delicacy; or repair a laptop keyboard; or give yourself a haircut? Or do you want to know more about yoga and meditation? For every practical problem that life challenges us with, chances are, someone else has encountered it already and has posted a solution for it on the video streaming site.

Unimaginable impact

The founders of the site, pioneers in technology at the time, could never have imagined how the site’s uses have grown. This democratisation of learning and dissemination of expertise to anyone who wants to consume it, instantly, on demand and for free is an extremely powerful force.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving video is ten times as valuable. These days, I find myself using not Google to find information if it is complex in nature, but YouTube — also a Google property — to find what I am looking for. And in almost every case, not only have I found information, but have also been successful in solving the problem that drove me to the site in the first place.

Three years ago, I attempted to convert my Nook tablet — an Android device at its core that is modified by Barnes & Noble in the factory to enslave users to buy only from B&N — into a regular Android tablet. I got tired of paying a high cover price for magazines and books at the Nook store and also wanted to use it as a regular Android tablet. The high definition video screen of the Nook was excellent and not found in comparable tablets at the time.

All I had to do was to somehow tinker with the Nook and jailbreak it. There were risks, of course, but I decided to brick the device if I failed. I had nothing to lose.

Did-It-Myself

YouTube videos were lifesavers for my project. One video showed me how to unlock the device (‘root it’, in hacker parlance). Another showed me to load an open-source Android-like version of a mobile operating system from Cyanogenmod. A third taught me to configure the Nook to make it work like a tablet, and load Google Apps like the Playstore (which gave me access to free books and magazines), Gmail and Maps.

The entire experience was fascinating and took a lot of time, patience and effort. Not all the information presented in the videos was exact and sometimes I needed to pursue other videos to fill in the gaps. This is obvious because there may not be a solution for the exact model, version, and make of my device.

So how did my diligence affect the global economy? First, I was able to extend the useful life of my then $250 Nook purchase for an additional year. This meant that I did not go out into the market to buy an Android tablet right away. So somewhere around the world, my delaying must have affected someone else’s job.

Second, I did not go to a repairman who specialised in such software fixes to older devices. So I denied the repairman his income by doing the project on my own — a near surreal experience.

Third, I was so impressed with YouTube as a medium that I created a step-by-step video myself for the specific problem of “rooting a Nook tablet to Android 4.2”. No sounds, no gimmicks, just video instructions. I got 292 views. Even if half the users benefited from the video and rooted their Nooks using my instructions, that would be nearly 150 delayed Android tablet purchases. Now we are talking numbers.

Move over, Google

Since this experiment, I have benefited from numerous how-to videos on YouTube. What is the best way to synchronise files with the Dropbox cloud if you only want to sync some files and not all? How do you reset your Windows 10 PC without losing files (i.e. by not doing a clean install)? How do you stop Windows 10 from automatically updating your PC at all odd times of the day? How do you use Snapchat’s Live Stories chat feature?

For years, we have been using Google to find answers to such questions. But with YouTube, you can see someone doing it in colourful video. You can pause the video, rewind, and fast forward on demand. Visual instructions have made otherwise scared consumers into active do-it-yourself-ers, and this has the potential to change the manufacturing and service sectors for years to come.

Environmental impact

The biggest benefit to the global economy, by far, is the positive impact on the environment. When we extend the life of existing devices and not throw things away, we are saving landfills. We are also saving from having to mine even more raw materials from Mother Earth for that replacement device, which we otherwise would have bought.

Every technological development has its pros and cons, and YouTube is no different. But, on balance, YouTube is a positive force in the world, changing lives one person at a time.

So the next time you consume a YouTube video for learning, think of how you can contribute to this vast store of knowledge. In the globalised community environment we live in, it’s not good enough to keep taking. We are all experts at something or the other and are often too shy (or lazy) to admit it. It’s therefore vital that we give back, because this alone can enrich everyone in the long run.