Helpline volunteers: unsung heroes of the web

I know it’s a modern cliché, but I am constantly surprised at how relatively easy it is to get advice using the Internet. And so much of this advice is provided by a huge army of volunteers, who give freely of their knowledge in replying to requests for help on specialised forums, customer support pages and similar sites.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was away from home, working in a hotel room, and I inadvertently stood on my laptop, which I’d put on the floor at the side of the desk. And yes, I know that’s not a good idea. But I did it. I realised what I was doing almost as soon as my foot touched the laptop, so I didn’t put a lot of pressure on it. It was, however, enough to put a mark diagonally across the screen in a rather fetching shade of purple.

I took the laptop into the local branch of a large chain of computer retailers, where the onsite repair people told me it would take a minimum of two weeks, and would cost £90 plus parts plus VAT to fix it. As I was heading home later that day, that was no use to me, so I thanked the engineer and went off with the broken laptop, wondering what to do next.

And of course, what I did next was to go on Google to look for an answer. Fairly quickly I came across a forum where I found a post by someone else who had had the same problem (I am clearly not the only clumsy laptop user). Four or five respondents had replied, explaining how to take out the damaged screen and replace it with a new one. One person included links to a YouTube video where someone from India went through the process in detail, and to a step-by-step guide (with photographs) on another support site.

So I bought a new laptop screen (also online, of course) and following these instructions, fitted it myself in about half an hour. I put a thank-you message on the various sites, and again shook my head at the generosity of people who share their knowledge in this way. This was only one of maybe a dozen occasions in the past year where I have been able to dig myself out of a problem in this way, thanks to someone or other who answered a cry for help. Amazing people.

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