Clean air gardening and the future of shared experience

For a bunch of reasons, I'm averse to gasoline-powered lawnmowers. They're loud, they're smelly, and as I learned when my dad bounced a rock off his leg many years ago, they can be dangerous. So I've always preferred old-fashioned reel mowers. Currently I use a Scotts Classic which I bought six years ago from Clean Air Gardening. My friends and family think I'm nuts to use it, but in fact these modern reel mowers are light and easy to push. The effort required to mow the lawn is mostly just the effort required to walk the property, and that's the same whether you're behind a roaring two-stroke engine or no engine. And in the latter case you can walk in bare feet, hear birds sing, and enjoy a bit of eco-smugness.

In recent years, though, things weren't going so well with my mower. Part of the problem was that I'd gotten the blade adjustment out of balance. For posterity I explained here what I'd done wrong and how I fixed it. But that wasn't the whole answer. Over time the pinion gears inside the wheels had gotten chewed up, and the mower began to lose traction. A friend remarked: "So, they designed a product that you would start out loving and then, gradually and imperceptibly, grow to hate." Exactly. A note to product developers everywhere: Don't do that! In this case, making those gears out of plastic saved pennies at a cost of untold dissatisfaction on the part of customers and damage to the reputation of the whole class of products.

Since I'm already an unofficial support site for reel mowers -- people find my last blog entry and write with questions -- I decided to do something more definitive. So this weekend I made a six-minute video that documents how to use, and maintain, the Scotts Classic.

As I discovered back when I fixed my printer, video is the ideal way to share certain kinds of knowledge and experience. In that example, provided both the printer repair kit and the video which was overwhelmingly the reason why I bought the kit from that supplier.

But in an era of commons-based peer production there will be increasing numbers of folks who will package their knowledge and experience in video form, and publish it freely, just because they can. Everyone's an expert on something. If its quick and easy to document some aspect of that expertise, and if doing so makes you a global authority on that topic, people will choose to do it.

If I'm right about where this is headed, the video-sharing sites will soon offer more than cute animal tricks, stupid people tricks, and experimental artwork. They'll start to be windows that open on many areas of knowledge and experience, the sharing of which will accelerate the production of new knowledge and the deepening of experience.

I've mentioned Yochai Benkler a few times recently. His half-hour talk at PopTech, which just appeared on ITConversations, is an excellent summary of his analysis of the economic transformation that these new modes of knowledge sharing will bring.

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