After years of using hand-me-down cellphones from my dad, I finally decided to get a brand new one of my own… And ended up with a pretty fancy smartphone. It’s impossible to validate the environmental costs of this choice, so I won’t try. Instead I’ll just assure you that I plan on using this new phone the same way I do most things: Until it’s completely worn out.
Having a phone with a pretty good camera integrated into it has totally changed my work as an electrical apprentice! And not just because I can occupy myself with art projects during the slow moments… Though let’s be honest, I’m really into that.
But art aside: Now when I’m sent off into the far reaches of a building to find a sensor or valve or junction box hidden in a ceiling somewhere, I don’t have to rely on my memory of the layout or my hastily scrawled directions! I can simply take photos of the building plans, and bring them up to reference as I search.
When I finally find what I’m looking for, I no longer have to struggle to explain to my foreman what it looks like, how it’s arranged, the specifics of its location: Instead I show him the photo I took, so he can see for himself.
(…And therefore have confirmation that YES, the sensor is broken in pieces, YES, the valve isn’t connected to anything, YES, there’s no junction box at all and the fucking conduit just turns and disappears into the roof. Le sigh.)
As an electrician working in established buildings, I’m often looking at wiring done by previous sparkies, and sometimes replacing things they’ve installed. So, it’s important to know how they wired a component before I remove it, for when I need to rewire the new one.
I always carry a small notebook with me, and even with the camera I take copious notes on everything I do, and really it’s easy to quickly jot what coloured wire was in which labeled connection. Still, it’s even easier to take a photo of the circuit. I like to take a “before”, with the original component, and an “after”, of how I’ve installed the new one. And then when I’m rewiring the next 40 or so thermostats, I don’t have to translate my notes into something visual: I pull up the “after” photo, and make my new thermostat look like that. I can also show it to my foreman and get his approval without him needing to physically visit the location of the component.
I’m not about to start recommending that all electricians or tradespeople start carrying fancy communications gear, or even supposing that having a smartphone is making me a better electrician… Fuck knows I still have a loooooooong way to go in developing those skills! But in a bunch of small ways, it really is improving my productivity (to use the corporate keyword). It’s not that my note-taking or descriptive abilities are crappy, because I think they’re actually quite excellent (Seven years of university was good for something).
And yet as someone new to the trade, I don’t always know what I’m seeing, and so have trouble describing it… Or I don’t even notice issues or errors that’re completely obvious to an experienced tradesperson. Being able to take a quick photo and use it for my own reference or to explain stuff to my boss just makes my job so much easier.
Also, as mentioned previously, more fun… Because everyone needs to kill time when hanging out at the top of a ladder inside a dropped ceiling by taking ridiculous self-portraits.