In tech support, no one

In tech support, no one can hear you scream
Written by Simon Peppercorn.

The phone rings as I unsheathe my lightsaber. Bugger. But I’m in a good mood, and not really enjoying JKII anyway? so I answer it.

‘Hey hey!’
‘Simon, I’m sitting in front of my computer and I want to overclock it. I want you to talk me through it.’
I cringe, knowing that this guy has the technical aptitude of a frog. So instead, I suggest it would be easier if he dropped his case over to me and I will have a look at it for him.
‘I thought you would know how to do it,’ he said, almost condescendingly.
The desire to cause pain was creeping in. I explained that it isn’t necessarily a five-minute over-the-phone job, and would require a number of restarts and tests for stability.
‘Surely we can give it a go…’ he persisted
‘OK…’ I resigned, ‘…fine. What CPU do you have?’
‘Huh?’
Audible groan… ‘Do you have an AMD or Intel system?’ I asked impatiently.
‘Oh… ummmm… it says “Packard Bell”.’
Urge to scream? ‘OK…so what CPU?’
‘Packard Bell!’ he repeated.

And this is where it became a ‘Choose your own adventure’-type situation. My choices were:
o politely and patiently take the person step by step through his overclocking adventure;
o give him a mouthful and tell him to go buy Atomic;
o look for a blunt object and suggest he drops by.

It’s a strange thing. Having a reasonable technical knowledge or skill in personal computers creates an impression among those not so blessed that you are an expert in the entire IT industry. You seem to give off a signal that you are available as a personal technical support response unit, 24 hours a day.

To be fair, it isn’t only geeks like us that are subject to this phenomenon. People such as mechanics, doctors, lawyers, interior decorators, and many other skilled people are surrounded by those who believe these people are willing and available to provide free support to others. I am guilty myself of harassing a particular nurse about matters I am sure he would prefer to forget about, when not at work? for which I owe eternal thanks.

But when it comes to computers, it’s those of us in the know who are constantly expected to find solutions for the most inane problems, 90% of which are traced back to user error, ignorance or plain stupidity.

Typical problems:

o ‘My monitor won’t come on?what happened?’
o ‘Why can’t I print? I just put a new cartridge in, but the pages came out blank. My printer must be broken.’
o ‘My PC won’t start? how come?’
o ‘Manuals?’
o ‘I want to overclock my computer.’
o ‘I wanted things nice and neat, so I moved all the .dll files into one folder, all the .inf files into another folder, all the .ini files into another folder?’
And so on? and so on…

And like superman with a propeller cap, you are expected to drop your JKII game, run to their assistance and save the world.

So being the superhero you are, you leap to the rescue, expecting to be able to display your technical prowess and fix some incredibly difficult system problem, impressing yourself and others… however, the more likely user feedback is:

o ‘Of course the monitor is plugged in? oh? so it isn’t? silly me!’
o ‘Remove what tape from the cartridge? Oh? that tape? hey? it prints now!’
o ‘Oh? I didn’t read any of those messages? I just kept clicking “next” or “continue”.’
o ‘I don’t need no steenking manuals!’
o ‘But if I overclock my Pentium 100, then I can play Doom III when it comes out? right?’
o ‘Stop hitting me!’

So you retire, deflated and angry, swearing to never look at another person’s problems ever again. But weren’t you a newbie once? Haven’t you ever asked a question which made someone else think ‘Tosser?’?

My Grandfather likes to tell me that ‘Computers is the ruination of society’, and reminisces about the days gone by, before computers, where unemployment was unheard of. He would talk of the day when a whole floor of office staff was given marching orders and replaced with a single computer. As much as we might roll our eyes at the ramblings of old folk, he does have a point: to a large extent, computers have replaced jobs traditionally performed by people. Technology has indeed been the cause of great industrial and social change — not always for the better.

But the more advanced we become, scientifically and technically, the greater the gap between those who are ignorant of technology and are slow to respond, those who resist the changes and fail to accept that life could be a whole lot easier if they learnt to use an ATM, and those like us who embrace technology it, learn from it, drive it forward and help those who are falling behind.

But this is the trade off, isn’t it? Those of you in the last group: you have been given a special power. And with that power comes two responsibilities. The first is to spread the word. Share your knowledge and encourage the growth of technology. Your other responsibility is far simpler, but less easy to accomplish. That is, to make sure people who shouldn’t mess with computers DON’T mess with computers: keep them away from a keyboard using any method permissible by law — heed my warning or you and I will be targeted for the rest of our days by shit like this:

Tech Support: ‘What does the screen say now?’

User: ‘It says, “Hit ENTER when ready”.’

Tech Support: ‘Well?’

User: ‘How do I know when it’s ready?’

Tech Support: ‘When I stop swearing at you.’

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