One Feature too Few

I spent a small part of CyberMonday on the edge of spending $1700 on an electric bicycle. There were lots of good reasons to like the bicycle I was looking at, but one really big reason I ended up passing on the sale: no service information. None. Zero information on how to repair or maintain this relatively expensive (by my standards) vehicle.

imagesThe kiddies who buy, modify, and farkel-up this particular brand of eBike are convinced “the future is internet based” and YouTube is the “wave of the future.” Obviously, YouTube is today and will most likely not even exist in the near future. Everything gets replaced by the next thing and YouTube is barely this century technology. We’ve gone through at least a dozen iterations of the “next new thing” that will replace decent service manuals and we keep coming back to the one way humans have learned to transfer complicated information: writing and technical illustrations.

In the 1940’s, television was the great educational hope. Television’s promoters spent a small fortune convincing the government that television would be the educational wave of the future. It wasn’t. However, the con job worked and television’s promoters got some powerful monopoly protection in the form of FCC regulation under the guise that something about television would be “public service.” For almost 40 years, the only public service provided by television (and radio) was forced by the Fairness Doctrine, but Reagan eliminated that in 1987. For-profit “education” companies are really spending big bucks trying revive television and on-line media as educational tools because it is incredibly cheap to provide. Cheap and good are not often comfortable bedfellows.

Of course those early video training films weren’t cheap, because film and unions were involved, but they also weren’t effective. I remember watching a Burroughs Corporation film training program on cassette tape head alignment in 1975. The presenter had to stop the projector multiple times to explain what we’d just seen because the complicated task of getting azimuth and zenith exactly right was barely mentioned in the video and, with the heads used and the tape speed, that was critical for both data aquisition and storage and head and tape life. Some Burroughs word processing machines couldn’t make it through a day without wreaking a tape or two and losing a day’s work when the tape broke during backup. The video, typically, dwelled on easy shit like installing a tape drive or cassette, magnetic tape theory, and Burroughs’ corporate history and blew past the actual information like it was some sort of contageous virus. A month later, Burroughs flew me from Omaha to Hauppauge, New York to teach a class on cassette head alignment to their in-house techs. A year or so later and Burroughs was out of the mini-computer and dedicated office machine education-teaching-adult_class-adult_learning-gadget-website-upload-aban1537_lowbusiness.

Over the next 40 years, I have had several equally disappointing (if you take training seriously) or hilarious (if you don’t take humans seriously) video training experiences. For the last 25 years of my career, I taught industrial technology in medical devices and, later, music technology at a music college. In that time, I experienced a whole “video revolution” in training; from VHS (far cheaper than film) to digital video and non-linear editing to PowerPoint with a little of everything included. I used both video and PowerPoint in my own presentations, but I never relied on either for conveying complicated information. For that, I had reading assignments, homework, and labwork. After I retired, I took a couple of on-line courses through my local community college; because they were cheap and I was curious. Both classes were, by design and out of necessity, remedial. The instructors were remote and barely technically qualified to instruct in their subjects and the video material used was . . . freakin’ terrible. Obviously, I am infected with confirmation bias, but I doubt that you could present evidence that would make me doubt my opinion even slightly.

So, when I criticised the short-term and lazy thinking of an eBike manufacturer’s simplistic and mostly-useless video “manuals,” I got this repsonse, “Funny you think you are correct because you are in the older generation and your years of experience tell you this FACT. Realistically the future will all be youtube. The headlight LeD kits I buy are all online links to installation (for my truck). My generation prefers online links to learn from watching vs reading. Its all opinion and your views vs others. The difference is your generation thinks your way is better when mine thinks our way is different and works for us. Get off your high horse. The future is internet based.” We’ll see, kiddy. I have been there and done that and while you live in luxury in your mommy’s basement watching YouTube and convincing yourself you’re learning something, I doubt that you’ll have a 55 year career doing anything that requires skill or knowledge.

In the end, I let the lack of product support make the decision for me. I let the sale price pass and decided to stick with repairing (on my own) the used bike in my basement. Nearly $2k for an unsupported product (last year’s model) with an undetermined life-expectancy and no useful repair information is beyond my personal and economic means.

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