Three Secrets to Becoming Your Own Tech Support – Your Children Will Thank You

According to family legend, my great-uncle Edwin said before he got into his first car, “Anyone who can drive a horse and buggy can certainly drive a car.” At which point, he got behind the wheel, put the car in gear and drove across the front lawn through the neighbor’s picket fence and finally came to a stop only when he ran into a horse trough in the center of town.  He then is reputed to have said, “A horse would have known better.” Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 12.13.49 AM

It is one of the more persistent frustrations with new technologies (be they cars or computers) that we wish they had enough “horse sense” to go where we intended to go, not where we drove them. Despite the marketing hype and some compelling science fiction, our computers are not sentient beings.

In a world where we increasingly rely on computing devices of all kinds in our daily lives, how do we get them to do our bidding without losing our tempers and without calling our computer-literate children to save us from our latest techno-tragedy?

Step 1. Use Google search to find the answer. This is what your children or your other family sources of technical support are going to do anyway, so you might as well learn to do it yourself.  If there is an error message, enter it in Google search or describe the problem in simple terms and include the name of the application. So, “text is too tiny to read in Chrome” is a good description.

Now, look at the first five results. The first two or three will be other people with the same problem asking how to solve it. The fourth will be someone who has no idea what they are talking about. The fifth will be someone who knows something and will either explain it in detail or post a link that explains what to do.  Sometimes you will get lucky and the best answer will be at the top, but mostly not. So a little patience and persistence is needed. (Here’s a great example.) Isn’t that what we told our kids when they complained that something was hard. If you learn better by seeing a video, click on “videos” at the top of the Google Search list of results and it will display just the video results. The odds are pretty good that there will be a YouTube video or two that will walk you through the solution to your problem.

Step 2. Use the applications you rely on.  You won’t know how to use an application unless you use it. This seems so basic, but it’s amazing how many of us expect that we will remember how to do something on our computers or smartphones that we did once four months ago. Surprise! You will actually get better with practice. Again, didn’t we tell our kids it just takes practice.

Step 3. Change your expectations of technology. Technology is not very smart. Someone has to give it detailed instructions. Programming a computer is like creating a detailed recipe to produce a Thanksgiving dinner that will work for someone who has never boiled water. Expect that until you understand the quirks of the recipe, you may not be able to produce the perfect result.

My mother used to make this delicious brown batter bread. We followed her recipe instructions carefully but the loaf always seemed a little uncooked in the middle and just didn’t taste right. We went over the recipe with my mother by phone and after several tries were ready to give up in frustration. The next time we visited, my mother said, let’s go through and make it together. We followed the same recipe and did everything the way we had before. When we were about to put it into the loaf pan to put it in the oven at the prescribed temperature, my mother said, “Oh, dear, I forgot to say it makes two loaves not one.”

No matter how good the programming of an application is, no matter how detailed the recipe, expect there to be something missing.

So the secret to becoming your own tech support is to:

  • build some skill, patience, and persistence in searching for the answer
  • practice frequently so you will learn and remember how to do things
  • develop a more realistic set of expectations

Wait a minute, isn’t this the advice you would have given your kids?


6 responses to “Three Secrets to Becoming Your Own Tech Support – Your Children Will Thank You”

  1. Oh, your stories made my day. As I struggle to learn (while resisting the practice mantra) the learning management system (LMS) for the online aspect of a class, I will remember the brown bread story. Telling my students I began teaching before the personal computer does not really help the situation but makes me feel better.

  2. Your articles always inspire me, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll be sharing next. Thank you Giles!