Monday, December 28, 2009

Just so you understand…

So earlier today, my mother in law was over to visit, when she produced a generic MP3 player she'd gotten for Christmas, handed it to me and said "Here, show me what to do with this."

I felt my blood freeze. I was about to enter the seventh level of family tech support hell. Now, I've been called a curmudgeon over things like this before and asked why I make such a big deal over someone simply asking for my help. Well, the reason I make such a big deal is that, as a 'computer guy', what I get asked to do is rarely what the person actually wants me to do.

You see, the person thinks they're just asking for help, but what they're really asking me is to take two or three hours worth of information on a topic they know nothing about and condense it into a couple of sentences that they'll grasp instantly with zero effort.

My mother in law 'just wants to listen to music on her mp3 player'… but to teach her how to do that, first I need to teach her how to use a computer (beyond playing solitaire). Then I need to teach her how to use the internet (first showing her how to get internet service, buy a router and set up a wireless network for her laptop). Then I have to each her how to use iTunes, Rhapsody or any other number of online music stores. Then I have to teach her how to install and use the software that came with her player and how to sync her music library with her mp3 player.

…and that's before I've even shown her how to turn her mp3 player on and how to work the device itself.

You see, it's not the helping I have a problem with. If someone's actually willing to learn, I'm more than happy to spend a few hours walking someone through something. Hell, doing just that is how I met my wife. However, as a rule, people don't want to spend a couple of hours learning how something works. They want a quick, thirty second answer…no matter how unreasonable that expectation may be.

What my mother in law wanted, specifically, was for me to say something like "Put the player next to your computer, press the big red button and then all your favorite music is automatically on the player."

The big problem, however, is when you express a reluctance to start this train wreck, the vast majority of people think you're refusing to help them because you just can't be bothered. Then, when you do try to help you get accused of deliberately making things complicated and using 'jargon', even when that jargon is as simple as using a term like 'USB Cable'

Now, here's the big secret. 90% of the time, the 'computer guy' you're asking for help knows as little about the gadget in question as you do. All we do differently is we read the manual and follow the instructions. It really is that simple. You open that book that came with your widget, and follow the step-by-step instructions.

All I ask is that next time you find yourself reaching for the phone or getting in the car you go see your computer guy, ask yourself if you've read the manual…but most of all, ask yourself if you're willing to spend a few hours listening and learning. We're not magic. We can't make something that's complicated into something simple. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort (and most of all, put aside the notion that anything you don't grok immediately is forever beyond you)…just don't bother, take the gadget back to the store or call a professional (read: paid) tech support guy instead.

I'm not saying the professional will make things any easier, but at least they're being paid to deal with you.

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