I decided to spend part of my holiday week away from work tackling a minor household annoyance. Our kitchen sink had developed an annoying whistling noise when running. How best to handle this situation?
In the pre-internet days, my only resolution would have been to call a plumber or blindly attempt the repair myself. The former would have required finding a plumber, getting them out, having them diagnose and repair the problem, and of course, paying him or her for their time, effort, expertise, and cost of any parts and materials used. I suspect that the cost would be somewhere between $50 for a service call and $200 for a new faucet (figuring on 1-hour of labor and $100 for a replacement faucet).
Attempting the repair myself would have required a trip to the library and the examination of a home improvement book to diagnose the problem. I would have found that the noise was due to a failed cartridge, which can be replaced in under as little as an hour. I would need to disassemble the faucet, take it to a home improvement store, get assistance in locating the proper replacement cartridge, and reassembly of the sink. This also requires some prerequisites such as a rudimentary understanding of plumbing work, possession of entry-level handyman skills, and ownership of basic tools.
How does the internet change the process?
I could easily go to howstuffworks to understand the mechanics of a kitchen sink faucet. A Google query for “kitchen sink whistling” would return accurate results. YouTube has videos of the repair. Moen’s website has a wizard that asks you questions about your faucet to eventually give you the exact model number, manual, and replacement parts. All told, I was able to take the background knowledge I already possessed and my basic tool set, such Googling, a trip to Home Depot, an hour of my time, and $20 and fix my problem without calling in an expert who I would have to trust to not take advantage of my ignorance. I would lack the information necessary to know if the fix required a $20 cartridge or a $100 faucet and an hour or two of labor.
You can easily make the argument that the internet took as much as $200 out of the pocket of the plumber (or mouths of his children), or you can alternatively decide that the internet saved me $180 PLUS taught me a valuable lesson as a DIY handyman and homeowner.