The internet is the greatest tool for sharing information in the history of humanity. I particularly love it for finding out how to do new things, or how to do old things better. I’ve done a huge amount of work on my cars that I never would have accomplished without electronic help. And in that spirit, I try to give back. When I learn something new, or see someone who needs help, I’ll post it on a forum, or sometimes even write a how-to article. But with the rise of information sharing came the rise of the hater, which is what got me writing today.
A few months ago, I posted an article on how to do a simple fix for my microwave. It was easy, it saved me literally hundreds of dollars, and I thought it would probably help out other people. Knowing that we’re talking about working around electricity, I threw in a broad caution statement:
“A word of warning: if you are not experienced taking apart electronics, don’t get in over your head. Use common sense, make sure to unplug everything, be careful, and take pictures to remember how things go back together.”
But that didn’t stop someone from chiming in to tell everyone that the sky was falling and that it was probably my fault. The comment was well-written, and unfailingly polite, but I felt like it went too far:
“Please permit me to preface what I’m about to say that I’m a trained appliance tech. Microwave ovens, along with televisions and computer monitors, are very dangerous devices for an unskilled person to work on and one tiny slip could send you to the hospital ER or worse. Microwave ovens have a high voltage power supply that produces, on average 2,000 volts which is rectified (changed from AC to DC) which powers the magnetron tube, which generates the microwave radiation that cooks your food. The danger comes from the fact that microwave ovens contain an oil filled high voltage capacitor (the oval shaped can located right below the fuse in your picture) that can hold a charge for days, even weeks, after the oven has been unplugged. That voltage and amperage is enough to stop your heart. Modern ovens contain a bleeder resistor built in the capacitor that neutralizes the charge on the capacitor’s plate when the unit is shut off, but those resistor can fail and for that reason the capacitor must be properly discharged before the oven is safe to work on. Unless one is trained to work on high voltage circuitry one should ask him or herself is the money I save by doing it myself worth my life?
Your article is well written but the lack of adequate precautions about the potential for electrocution could get a beginner seriously hurt. Just removing the oven’s shell will be getting them in over their head.”
My first reaction was to get defensive and argue. But I resisted that urge and decided to sleep on it before I replied. As I said, the comment was not-trollish or baiting, but I did have a question about his motives. This commenter says he is a trained appliance technician, and is criticizing an article that tells people how to fix their microwave without his help. Obviously there is potential financial motivation for him.
But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is genuinely just concerned about people getting hurt. This is the part the irked me the most about his comment. The underlying thought process is that since some idiot may get hurt doing something stupid, we must assume everyone is that stupid, and try to protect them from themselves. The world is full of smart, capable people. To dumb down the internet just to protect the least capable people hurts everyone. It reminds me of the short story Harrison Bergeron; did we learn nothing from that? Or are we not allowed to read that in school anymore? This is the reason that car and appliance manuals no longer have any useful repair information in them, for fear that someone will get hurt and sue the manufacturer. Which is what sends us looking on the internet for actual help on how to do fix things.
I feel like I may be getting overly worked up about one small comment, but there really is a bigger issue at stake. I don’t WANT people to hurt themselves. But more importantly, I don’t want the entire planet to be deprived of information for the fear that one person may misuse it.
Am I way off base here?