September 7, 2021

To combat the Dark Age, own and read fix-it books rather than YouTube tutorials or WikiHow articles

On the topic of the disintegration of our collective knowledge during the new Dark Age, consider how often people just let their material stuff rot into disrepair. The less that stuff gets repaired, the less demand there is for the knowledge and skills to do the repairing, and therefore the lower in supply that knowledge and those skills will become. At a certain point, it's a niche thing or forgotten altogether.

And yes, if it becomes a niche thing, it is a sign of a Dark Age, compared to when it was commonplace. If literacy goes from 99% to 10%, that is a Dark Age, despite the knowledge and skills "still existing" and "not having disappeared". Only the most rationalizing Panglossian would point to the remaining 10% as refuting the claim of there being a Dark Age.

For those who do want to keep the knowledge and skills alive, though, there's a meta-problem — not just preserving them in your own mind, and if possible transmitting them to others person-to-person, but preserving them in an archive or library, to be consulted by those who you cannot interact with face-to-face.

For now, the main solution seems to be YouTube videos — making one yourself, consulting one yourself, or sharing one with another person / audience. But if there's anything that Dark Age people should appreciate, it's how fragile it is to migrate collective knowledge to an online repository.

What if YouTube de facto stops existing, like MySpace or Flickr, and inactive content and accounts get deleted? What if the site is retired altogether? What if your topic, which formerly was considered mundane, becomes politicized and banned? Don't think that couldn't happen to content that could be construed as "prepping" or "nationalist" or "MAGA". Oh, so this guy wants to preserve his well-made American tech? Sounds like an apocalyptic prepper waiting to show down against the US Army, plus being xenophobic against Vietnamese-made tech, and wanting to restore or RETVRN to a bygone Golden Age of material culture. Probably voted for Trump. Better delete the whole fucking channel, just to be safe.

Online information is the most fragilized type in existence, because there are so few redundancies. "Just save it on multiple servers" or whatever, is not going to matter, since a few mega-sites are the portals to almost all content, for the vast majority of internet users. Again, if something "still exists" but is driven to the absolute margins, it is a Dark Age.

Physical media, on the other hand, are redundant. Books, for example, are so widely distributed that it would be impossible to ban or delete or destroy even half of the copies of a commonplace title. And for repairing, DIY, etc., there are tons of copies of highly useful books, some of which are decades old but are still in top shape because they were made before the Dark Age (high-quality paper, ink, hardcover material, and binding).

I've found the Reader's Digest books to be informative, helpful, and widely available (at thrift stores, used bookstores, anywhere really, and for cheap). They're called either the Do-It-Yourself Manual (general home maintenance), or Fix-It-Yourself Manual (more about devices and appliances of all types). They were published throughout the decades in several updates, which helps if your house, tech, etc., is from the Midcentury or before, as well as if it's from the '80s or '90s. There are clear diagrams, concise prose, and intuitive steps through the process. And all put together by pros. You just do not get that with WikiHow articles, YouTube videos, or Q&A posts on specialized forums.

More importantly, you don't have to sift through dozens of sources as you do online — these books are authoritative and comprehensive, for their intended audience and purpose. When too many sources exist, you've got a whole 'nother project on your hands — coming up with an algorithm, however crude, to choose which ones to trust more than the others. Page views? Rank in a Google search? Likes on a video? Too much work before you've even consulted the content itself.

This is also why it's easier to buy a handful of cookbooks to tell you how to make any meal you want, rather than doing a Google search for every single meal and having to algorithmically sort through the dozens of results for each meal. Another plus for physical media — no fucking ads, no trackers, no retarded comments section, and no bloated personal stories that do not inform but only exist to slap personal website branding onto a fundamentally impersonal recipe. The photography is more professional as well.

Part of our status-striving era of over-produced aspiring elites is that everyone now regards themselves as a potential technocrat or expert on anything they choose to apply their midwit brain to, with earth-shaking consequences depending on their decisions. As though you could successfully open and operate your own restaurant, or as though you're going to be the chef for royalty, or as though anyone other than you yourself is going to be eating the vast majority of the meals that you prepare.

That's why they freak out about cookbooks, with their sole recipe for a given meal, and why they're gripped by a futile drive to consult as many second, third, and fourth opinions to get a diverse range of options. Get as many bids as you can when contracting out work, right? In the end, most of those culinary or home repair options are minor variations on the same solution, and wading through all of them only serves to slow down and even paralyze the process of getting the right outcome.

Your everyday meals, and your around-the-home repairs and maintenance, are not on the scale of importance as multi-million-dollar contracts, and "consulting all the experts" is a classic tragic case of over-optimizing, just to inflate your own undeserved sense of status. Just open the Reader's Digest book and follow the process like a normal common person.

Aside from the over-optimizing mistake of consulting dozens of sources when one will do, online info also leans heavily toward the lifestyle and persona striver value, rather than the sheer utilitarian value of getting the job done right and simply. This may be due more to the time period in which it was made — the 2010s and after — rather than the medium, but still, you can't consult online content from the 1970s.

What does this entail? Presenting options that skew toward the extreme, in-your-face, and "do you even lift, brah?" This is because online people have little to show organically in their real lives for masculinity, productivity, etc., so they need their consumption habits to make up for it. "Don't drink caffeine like a pussy — drink this type, and it'll put hair on your chest and get you chicks" (spoiler: no it won't, dork).

A brief example: occasionally the drain in my bathtub slows down and backs the water up into the tub during a shower. At first I put a little Drano down, and that was that. But it's not good long-term because those chemicals eat away at the pipes. So when it happened again this summer, I decided to try something else. Almost all of the online info, from articles to videos, was about using a drain snake, the most serious and involved way to fix the problem. OK, I did happen to pick up a made-in-USA drain snake at a thrift store awhile back, so maybe it was finally time to put it to use.

Then, out of habit, I conferred with the Reader's Digest manuals (and a Time Life DIY manual) — and they all said try plunging it first. And goddamn if it didn't work just that easily! Much lower tech — only a standard plunger that everyone has seen in cartoons from decades ago, a wet rag to stuff into the overflow plate, and water from the faucet. I knew it would get boring and distracting to keep track of the time while doing it, so I put on a CD and stopped after one song. But once it was over, BOOM, like magic it cleared whatever soap-and-hair clog was there, and sucked the water right down the drain like new again.

If you're a woman, you may need to get one of the men in your life with the upper body strength and stamina to keep at it forcefully for a solid 3-5 minutes. Other than elbow grease, nothing more high-tech than a plunger and rag was required.

The persona-striver solution of Tim the Toolman Taylor's not-so-manly target audience — MOARRR POWERRR — would have taken longer, potentially damaged the pipes (the end of the snake can scrape and scratch them), and required more complicated steps to navigate the thing around corners.

In general, you should only use technology to supplement what you cannot do with your own body and mind. Oddly enough, then, the extreme in-yer-face-bitch solutions wind up making you weaker, because the tech does so much of the work, and not you yourself. One of the fastest ways I ever got ripped was a few years ago, clearing and restoring a neglected trail with only hand tools, my body, and the environment. That also produces a more natural look, since you're not isolating one muscle with one machine at a time. You're using them holistically for the activities they were intended for by human evolution.

To conclude, I think online is counter-productive for a related reason — if you get sucked into persona-striving, then social media is going to get you addicted and stuck on that treadmill. Hobbyist forums were one thing, but social media is designed for joyless grinding and maxing stats in a competition against other strivers, with metrics for all to see. When you're reading a book and getting a job done without posting it to social media, you're a normal real human being.

I don't buy the idea that social media posting is going to motivate others to take up the struggle against the Dark Age. It'll primarily appeal to the super-strivers, and most of them will burn out or get bored of that domain of striving after a few months or years, move on to some other arena of striving, and will not have preserved the knowledge and skills medium to long-term.

I think general advice and sources are the best to provide, maybe with a personal anecdote here or there. More broad in its appeal, less intense emotional investment, therefore more sustainable, and more of a bulwark against cultural disintegration.


  1. Why didn't it occur to me to try plunging the bathtub drain? Part of the Dark Age is the treatment of science and engineering as inexplicable magic.

    By now, everyone grows up using the plunger only for a toilet, and that's a different shape of plunger anyway. You don't know how it works, you just know to plunge a clogged toilet -- however that cannot generalize to other kinds of clogged pipes.

    The all-purpose type of plunger doesn't get used for any purpose nowadays, and sits around or isn't there in the home at all.

    True, you could suspect that any kind of slowed plumbing would call for a plunger. And I did try that for a clogged kitchen sink a few years ago, but it didn't work because it's too difficult to block off all the escape routes that the water / air can leave through (like the other drain in the sink, and the hose to the dishwasher -- even when clamped as tight as you can get it).

    I ended up calling a plumber, and he said the clog was so far back anyway, plunging wouldn't have done it.

    So perhaps my mind just went "Meh, trying to plunge the bathtub will go as badly as trying to plunge the kitchen sink". With the overflow plate offering an escape route for the water / air, I figured it would be just as pointless. Unlike a toilet, where there's nowhere else for the water to go, and plunging requires no prepping steps.

    Or maybe I assumed the clog would have to be so far back, it'd only be reachable by a drain snake.

    Whatever was going on in my mind, it was obviously not rational, trial-and-error, experiment, etc. Just treating the plunger as a magical object that only casts its spell on a certain type of enemy that is uniquely weak to its powers, and not understanding how it works in order to apply it to similar cases.

    And in my defense, the principles behind plunging don't really match those of other appliances or systems around the house, so it's harder to reach the right answer by analogy. As I've been reading the Fix-It manuals, I've been sure to get the principles, so they'll apply elsewhere.

    But forcing a column of water back and forth like a piston against an obstruction, using a handheld pusher-and-puller of that battering ram (or the vacuum effect), doesn't really arise elsewhere in home maintenance and repair.

  2. You can also try dissecting the thing and figuring out how it works yourself, if it's simple and safe enough. You need to be a visual person, but some devices are designed simply enough that you don't need to be an autistic engineer to figure it out.

    Usually only works with mechanical stuff, though, not if there's a lot of electronics involved.

    Awhile ago, a pair of lamps were fading off and on when the knob / key was in the on position. Sometimes they were totally off, when switched "on".

    I figured they can't be that intricate, so took them apart, kept turning the knob to see what was at work when turning it off and on. There was some kind of metal piece that was folded in a U shape, attached to the rest of the assembly on one "leg" of the U, and the other "leg" being manipulated by the key. When the other leg made contact with the electrical contact, it turned on, when removed from the contact, it turned off.

    This relied on the U being just the right width between the two legs. Over time, it had lost some of its coiled / potential strength, or something, and was no longer making contact when the key properly manipulated it. So I just used my hands or pliers or whatever to stretch it back out -- problem solved!

    Probably will lose that strength again at some point, but now I know how to fix it again, without having to putter around for an hour first.

    Sometime in the '60s or '70s, they scrapped this design for turning lamps on / off, and none of the ones afterward have this problem of losing contact over time. But if you want to preserve those good old single-click lamps you found at a thrift store or antique store, you have to know how they work.

  3. When *are* YouTube or special forums useful? If it's a complex system, unique build, or something that would not show up in an all-purpose manual.

    E.g., the rear window of the car stayed open, and wouldn't return to lock in place with the rear door shut. Once manually latched back in place, the window would not open when the rear door handle was triggered. Not good to have the rear window constantly open during winter.

    Nothing really on cars in those DIY manuals, because they're too intricate compared to a lamp or toaster or bathtub drain. Luckily there were a few YouTube videos, one of which walked through the steps to diagnose where the problem was.

    I felt strange taking off the inner panel to the rear door, like that's something only a pro mechanic should be doing. Found out where the electronic signal was not getting through -- the part on the door handle itself, where the electrical contact was very corroded.

    Ordered a $35 new part off ebay (made in USA), took an awkward hour to remove the old one and install the new one, because I didn't want to remove the whole door handle assembly. Didn't trust my skill at putting it all back together, so opted for minimally invasive surgery. There was very little room to maneuver around in the inner part of the door, couldn't even wear leather gloves because the space was so cramped, and cut my hand a little on an edge (nothing bad though).

    But holy shit, after I finally got the piece clamped in place, it worked like a charm! Pull back on the handle, window swings open! Close the door, window latch accepts the closing window! I must've played with that for five minutes, before putting the panel back on.

    I'm not a car guy, so if I can do something like that, you can learn how to fix something simple about it, too. And saved probably hundreds of dollars compared to taking it to a garage.

    I also remember when I picked up a Canon A-1 camera at a thrift store years ago, it made a grinding sound each time the shutter opened. Too specific to be in the DIY manuals. Turns out it's a common problem with that particular model, and it just needs lubrication.

    YouTube videos showed me what spot to open, where to drop some gun oil via syringe, and how to fire the shutter a bunch of times to get it worked all through the mechanism. Worked like a charm! Totally silent action afterwards.

    ...But if the device is simpler than a car or a camera, and the problem is probably not specific to one make and model, then it should be covered in the all-purpose manuals. Unclogging a drain, repairing a lamp, etc. Look it up there first, and only go on YouTube if the thing is complex and idiosyncratic.


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