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Failure to communicate

A growing segment of the technologically-enabled population is developing what I would best describe as a "derision" towards those who are not technically competent, for whatever reason. This sentiment is immediately apparent in the technical support industry, but I've seen it from peers who've never been formally introduced to tech support as well.

The common factor in the derision appears to be a result of differences between the two groups of people involved: those who feel they have invested much time in competence, and those who they feel have not. Over time, repeated communication failures left unaddressed appear to result in a build-up of resentment towards one (or, more often, both) parties.

One of the clearest examples of this can be found in comics that focus on these conflicts, such as Dilbert, Userfriendly, or w00t; in each, one can find the viewpoint of the "geeks" trying (and commonly failing) to communicate with the "newbies" — often with disastrous results. One can draw parallels to the similarly frustrating interactions between management and employees, as well; the stress of communication failures doesn't seem to be limited to outside interactions.

Standing guard at the far extreme of this reaction is the "Bastard Operator From Hell" series. For many years the saga has enchanted those who have been burned by IT work; at the core of all the angst-laced stories is the story of someone who used to try until it was hopeless, but now has turned to the dark side. Many techs wish they could do some of the things in the stories to their users, even in a humorous, non-lethal manner.

Some efforts exist to counter this trend; the perl-beginners mailing list handles a steady flow of traffic in polite Q&A with novice users; it's worked out wonderfully, thanks to Casey's efforts. Other beginner outreach efforts surely exist as well.

I'm not sure how to stem this tide of bitterness towards others; perhaps including social interaction training with computer training? It's a tough call, and I don't have the information to make it. Comments welcome; specific incidences of kindness would be nice to know about.


As someone who is the default tech support for family, a bunch of artists and department at a community college my frustration is that you tell them directly to or *not* to do something and they quit remembering in a while.

Viruses are especially a problem. I tell umpteen people *not to open attachments*, dont trust *account verification* emails. Run Spybot S&D *and* Lavasoft AdAware and it fails to sink in.

I can happily answer app qestions all day long, walk people thru setting up the internet. But give me a person with MyDoom and a email list with attachemnts all the time and I lose sympathy. This applies to mom and dad too, I RDC to their XP box at least once a week to make sure things are kosher.

In the workplace it is different I *require* people to remember to do X. And if they dont, I lay into them. These are grown men and women that agree to do a job in exchange for money.

Part of that is knowing how to use the equipment.

I have a post on a somewhat similar topic now on my site.

Heh. Nice pic.

Thanks :) It's only a couple hours away.

matt stop staring at my monitor and go look at rob for a while, I think really sums it up. it's a learned response from dealing with people that lack knowledge, experience, and a willingness to learn. With the given example I would like to believe that even the most bitter of geeks is more than happy to help a novice that really wants to learn what is being explained. It's reached a point where that want has to be expressed a great deal more. With the hordes of people that just want someone to do it for them,\ that seek help from such sources. ( i learn english real good ) as far as the tech industry goes, those people ( YES YOU ) are just as bad as the ones that call if not worse ( there are a few exceptions ) they read a script and if there corporate site doesn't have the answer they don't know what to do. I think the attitude from support comes from the fear of being found out ( because stream employees know everything! )

I know of a specific instance of kindness: our humble host came to visit my site after a trackback ping where I described finding the instructions for including CSS in RSS feeds after a very frustrating time not understanding why everyone else's feeds looked beautiful and mine were all one paragraph without any formatting or links. He was gracious, uncommonly helpful, descriptive (but not overly so), and included examples and links to where I could find the solution. Completely out of nowhere. In reply to a trackback ping in a list of like a thousand trackback pings in an old old (but probably pretty popular) posting. I replied in the most recent post, but then I started reading down here and saw the request for specific acts of kindness: and here one is. Thank you again. :)

This is a very important question. Lilia Efimova had a post on "beginner-friendly communities" a while back - http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2002/11/10.html

Whilst I am computer literate, I am completely new to actually getting involved, having only set up a blog a few wks ago, and even then, its at blogger. Whislt finding information is no problem, I do have to admit that I am intimidated and at a dead loss when it comes to finding a "real-time" or personal explanation for many of the problems I am facing whilst learning CSS etc. At the same time, I too find it hard to keep my patience when trying to teach my mum how to send emails, or what to click on and what to avoid - definite tech karma.

There are several ways that inexperienced people are different from computer experts.

First of all, frequency. It's easy to remember things you do every day, and a lot harder to remember things that you do every few months.

Second, context. There are a lot of layers of knowledge you need to be proficient with computers. RTFM isn't that helpful before you have enough context to understand the answer.

Third, focus. A computer wizard might not know how to cook or fix a car. There are only so many hours in a day -- people who don't spend time rebuilding linux kernels are probably good at something else. It's pretty arrogant to assume that one's own avocation is most important.

LinuxChix has good tutorial information with lots of context, and friendly online classes. They accept guys, too.

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