It's Better than Eating Alone

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thank You for Calling Tech Support

I read a comic about a doctor drawn to attend a social gathering while where he was still wearing his white coat and a clipboard. The last panel stated (assuming it was his wife): "He loves socializing, but he just hates the free advice."

I was wondering about that joke and what that meant for doctors. Lately I've been understanding it a bit more. It seems that it has become pervasive for a lot of people to see another person by his
career or title. In the case above (for which I am also guilty of at some point), doctors might want to be seen as human beings having the need for a casual social interaction too. However, they end up becoming center-pieces and they end up being "free advice" columns. "So, I've been having this headache for while... What do you think?" Of course, the poor kind-hearted soul just has to go ahead and tell the pseudo-patient, "Just drink lots of water."

I've noticed this happens to a lot of people. I probably was ignorant at first, but I experience this almost everyday now. I work as a computer teacher and have been decisive about making sure that everything I work with and work for are innovative and efficient. In this small community that I am currently working for, I've also become the resident tech support person.

Observe how my phone rings and as I pick it up hear the voice of the school's neighbor, also a member of the school board and is asking me how to copy his files from a USB thumbdrive. What a lot of people don't seem to understand is that technology is not magic, and that the phone alone does not make any of us psychic or telekinetic.

I keep telling people that I did not have a degree in computers, nor have I taken any formal courses, except for 4 years of basic computer knowledge from high school and one subject in college on Microsoft Office. Those 4 years don't even include Windows (except during my senior year where I got to play with Windows 3.1). One of my more aged colleagues said she wanted to buy a computer so she could learn it. She said this after I've recently designed a teacher's lounge equipped with computers and Internet and a printer. I blurted, "You don't have to own a computer. I never did."

That was true. My sister owned one, and it was a DOS-based 286. But that was a long time ago, back when I was 13. I didn't own the thing, though I did get to use it a lot. Even in college, I had to write my thesis on my friend's 486 PC. Now, I'm writing this with a refurbished PC that I thankfully got from my former pastor. Technically then, this is the first PC I have ever owned. So I could easily say that owning something does not make much of a difference. I believe its a choice of exposure.

And that's what a lot of people seem to refuse to do. With the doctor story, maybe it can be justified. But there is a way of thinking now that tells us that we can listen to our own bodies and it can tell us that there is definitely something wrong. And besides, it's our choice to be healthy too.

So what about my situation? Or other people out there whose expertise with computers are above-average than others. I've heard, "Hey, can you look at my computer..." or even, "Can you fix my computer?" I'm tempted to say, "Do you know what I am capable of doing?" Of course sometimes I do relent and end up telling the person, "Yeah, just take it to a computer shop." That is when I have no idea whatsoever to fix the broken PC, or that I don't even have the time because I do have real work to do.

People's expectations however, don't change. "I can't log in to my e-mail." And I just stare and say, "Uhm, I'm not your service provider." How the heck do I know about your e-mail account or even understand why they won't log you in? I do love technology, but that does not excuse anyone to even try to tell me that I am its servant. "Come now, you are a computer wizard!" Nope. I'm not. Even Merlin would resent it if King Arthur was to come to him everyday and tell him, "I broke the Excalibur again." I wouldn't be surprised if I found a croaking frog on Camelot's throne.

Apple Macintoshes and Microsoft Windows have revolutionized the home computer industry in making sure that using computers is "idiot-proof." But with the ease of use comes complacency, and idiot-proof it may seem, it also became "learning-proof." Most people have decided to learn only a few of this and that in their daily tasks, and once they go off that routine, they end up lost.

I tell my students some of the essentials in learning computers - observe, experiment, question, and then learn. My students pester me when dialog boxes pop up and end up raising their hand and asking me what to do. My answer - "Read." Computers are not as incomprehensible as other people think they are. I think that is why the tech support industry has grown. Inversely though, the learning curve has slowed down to a point where the technology itself is taken for granted. Being one of those who laugh at the tech support joke of the CD drive mistaken as a cupholder, I can't blame anyone who can find humor in the oblivious situation most computer users are in. But that is just what they are missing - the fact that computers today are supposed to be more intuitive and directed to them, the average user.

One thing that one must realize is that even with technology, much like in other careers, the learning must never stop. I regret that I have neglected programming, and am now supposed to learn new ones. I am proud that now I have an understanding of Linux, and will be able to give you a working file and print server in less than a day. I can tell you the difference between file systems and platforms, and will be able to tell you why you don't have Internet connection. But I can't tell you how to make actionscripts in Flash, or even which instant messenger is the best. I too, have my shortcomings. I too, am still learning.

So to those who's becoming walking tech support systems, we can only help our "damsels in
distress" by making sure they learn. Give the man (or woman) a fishing line so that they'll learn how to fish. And make sure that they see us not as walking computer manuals, but people who do love socializing, or even casual conversations. Our topics do not end with computers. Maybe we like music too, or even dancing. Or not. There's more to us than anyone would ever think.

So the next time the neighbor asks you to come over to fix his computer, tell him, "I'll just send you the bill." And then be serious about it. That's one less pseudo-costumer to worry about.

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