When it hurts to be a "computer guy"

I spent one grueling hour as phone tech support for my mom’s “friend.” This is my story.

Problem: She couldn’t click in Internet Explorer to type a search.

I was assuming she was using IE6[1. It doesn’t look like you can disable the address bar in IE7. Now I know why.]. So, I tried my best to clearly explain how to fix it. (You just need to enable the Address Bar.) That took about 25 minutes, which included the need to unlock the toolbars and drag the address bar input area into view.

Problem: She still can’t type anything.

I tried to get her to open Microsoft Word to test the keyboard, but she had no idea what or where that was.[2. I guess she only uses Internet Explorer.]

Getting her to shut down her computer, then find the keyboard plug took about 20 minutes. Since she had a USB mouse, I had to explain how to differentiate which port the PS/2 connector should plug into. (In other words, look on the back of the computer for a tiny picture that looks like a keyboard.)

Once she restarted and got back into IE6, all was back to normal.


That brought us to the primary problem — her printer wouldn’t work. Yeah, I kind of Tarantino-ed it.

She tried to print and Windows displayed a communication error. Following directions, she unplugged and replugged the printer in.

The last 15 minutes of the call was trying to explain that the printer needed to be plugged into a power outlet and the computer. While she was trying to troubleshoot before calling me, I’m 95% sure she started unplugging other stuff — which brought about some of the other problems. (I’m still not sure why the address bar disappeared. Odd.)

I’m not sure if the printer is really defective[3. She’ll look for the power cable later…or borrow someone else’s printer. Fail.], but it doesn’t make sense…well, it’s over for now.

Moral #1: If you know little about computers, don’t try to troubleshoot yourself. Call someone first.

Moral #2: Don’t make an excuse as a crutch. That just tells me that you don’t want to learn. For example, “She doesn’t know how to use computers — she’s old.” Hey! We all started at the beginning. You’ll get better as you learn — assuming you want to.

The proper thing to say is, “I’m new to computers and learning, so don’t be mad at me.”[4. After the fifth time, I won’t take that statement seriously.] 🙂

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

6 thoughts on “When it hurts to be a "computer guy"”

  1. I feel your pain. I spent many years in tech support/helpdesk. It’s not always easy.
    But don’t worry. You will always be known as a computer guy now. Even when you move out of tech support, everybody will want you to fix their computer.
    Enjoy. 🙂


  2. I deal with this on a daily basis designing people’s websites and making changes and additions to them. The one I get the most is “why does my web address bring up Google when I type it into my browser?” Seriously, I get this one daily. As soon as I tell them to enter it into the URL field, and not their Google search field, all is well, but its as if they do not grasp the concept that the different fields to different things. My grandparents make that mistake all the time. They enter EVERYTHING into their Google homepage.


  3. I’m not entirely sure, but I think old people actually do have a “get out of jail free card” for moral #2. It may have something to do with crystallized intelligence vs. fluid intelligence. Something along the lines of teaching an old dog new tricks. I’m not really an expert on the matter, so I could be wrong, but it’s just my .02.

    If you really want to stop being the “computer guy,” there’s always the simple “I don’t know how to do that” excuse. However, that may eventually eat up some of your hard earned street-cred. Also, if you’re bad at lying, or just don’t like lying, this technique might not work very well for you.


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