Learn or Log Off

This NYTimes story really struck a chord with me. It suggests that the geeks of the world are getting sick of providing so much free tech support, and that we are expecting people who enjoy the fruits of computers and the net to also take on the respoinsbility of learning about how things work enough that they behave correctly. Some disagree. I don’t think they get the point.

Yes, yes, you’re all upset that you can’t understand these incomprehensible computers, and it’s not your fault that they are difficult and new, and techies can’t treat you like second-class citizens. In much the same way that we can’t all be lawyers, or doctors, but that doesn’t mean that doctors or lawyers treat the rest of us with disdain because we don’t know how to perform open-heart surgery or get a million dollar settlement.

No, you’re wrong. It’s not that at all.

We expect people who operate cars to know enough about how to do it that they do it correctly. We actually make them take tests! Penalize them for doing things that are hazardous. We don’t expect people to be lawyers, but we expect them to obey laws. We don’t expect them to be doctors, but we expect them to know the basics of healthy living, and when to get their shots, and the like.

We don’t expect everyone to be a computer expert. But we expect that, if they decide they are goint to use a computer, that they take a little bit of time to learn how computers work — read a manual, take a class, buy a book, whatever — and take the necessary steps so that they can safely and conscientiously operate their computers.

I don’t do tech support any more. I get ill every time I hear someone say, “I don’t understand computers!” If you don’t understand them, don’t use them. We’re not forcing you to. And if you want to use them, learn the basics of understanding them. You don’t have to understand how the circuits pass electrical signals. You don’t have to know what a compiler is. But come ON. If you go into the kitchen with no experience, no training, and no recipe book, what you get out of the oven for dinner will more likely then not taste terrible. Is your excuse that you don’t understand how this strange cooking thing works?

With an excuse like that, no one will want to come over to your house for dinner. Same in this case — no one wants you on the internet.

3 replies on “Learn or Log Off”

  1. As someone who actually gets paid to do tech support for people, I can tell you that most of the problems I see computer users experiencing on a day-to-day basis are NOT a result of their failure to educate themselves about computers; rather, they are a result of unscrupulous software authors deliberately attempting to decieve them. It’s far too easy to accidentally install, say, GAIN on your system, and then have no idea whatsoever where those random banner popups are coming from. This is by far the most common thing we see at the UNet helpdesk.

  2. I agree with Nat in that there are a large number of problems that are not caused by the (clueless ?) user, but you’ve got to keep in mind that there are a large number of problems caused that way. My favorite is “I didn’t know what that file was, so I deleted it”. Goodbye DLL file! You’d be surprised how many times that’s happened.

    People should learn how to use computers. But they won’t. You can just go out and buy a computer — no training required. Try buying a car without insurance (which you can’t get without a license/permit, at least in CA). People will do what they are allowed to do, and invariably that leads to people using things they’re not proficient at.

    On the other hand, people should have access to devices which make their lives easier.

    I’ll pretend to be Ganesha now, and on the OTHER hand, people shouldn’t be allowed to use computers if they’re going to allow viruses to spread, or allow their computers to become launching points for DoS attacks.

    Also, </pointless use of the “code” html tag>

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