Hello, Tech Support?

Having done computer related work for nearly ten years now has made me the technical support geek for my family and friends. In addition to my job, paying freelance work, pro-bono work for a non-profit club I’m a member of, and several personal endeavors (this blog being one), I have numerous requests ‘in the queue’ from family and friends.

I’ve been working on a website for my brother’s business in my free (and not so free) time for the last few months. It’s finally nearing the point where I can consider a ‘phase 1’ completion and launch it so that I can get to my next big project – my taxes! My 36 year old brother and his business partner-girlfriend get technical support from me any time they have a problem. Yesterday, the girlfriend described a problem she was having with their Handspring Visor. I asked her if the book I’d loaned her offered a solution. She said she hadn’t read it. In fairness, they are not without a clue. They have enough of one to be dangerous. Sometimes undoing something that’s been done because people think they know what they’re doing can be more painful.

My father has three computers, each is about five years old. He uses one, my 18 year old brother uses one and my 13 year old brother uses the other one (an old one that belonged to me). The two boys are always f*cking up the computers by downloading and installing crap they shouldn’t, visiting internet sites they shouldn’t, and deleting stuff they shouldn’t. Like important operating system files. They’ll use the computer until it’s unusable but not say anything about the problems. Then suddenly, they’ll have important school work they need the computer for and will start whining to my father because it’s broken. Of course, neither boy will ever admit what they’ve done to cause the problem because you see, they didn’t do it. My youngest brother’s computer has been at my house for about three months now. The machine will not even boot – I can’t imagine what he did to it. As I said, I’ve been busy so I haven’t gotten to it. Besides, I’m annoyed that I’ll be rebuilding this machine for at least the third time. My dad asked me about it again last weekend and I had to tell him “Sorry, it’s not a priority and it won’t get done until after I do my taxes.”

My mother has only had a computer since last fall. She’s been in Florida for the winter and supporting her over the phone has been incredibly painful. Fortunately, she only uses the computer for email and occasional web surfing. The other morning she called to say that she received an email from someone on Match.com that she wanted to meet. The message indicated that the gentleman had tried to contact her previously. This was a surprise. We’d set her up on the service last fall but she’d never had any responses. Or so we thought. She complained to me several times that she’d gotten no action off of her ad. Each time my response was that she needed to login to the service every couple of days in order to continue being near the top of the list for query results – when her profile matches the search criteria. Of course, I explained this in English but she never did it.

Mom was using MSN for internet access and email because there was a free trial period that came with the computer. MSN (and Hotmail) filters out junk email for their members. They don’t ask you, they just do it. Probably because they’re so plagued with junk email that they couldn’t handle the complaints they’d get otherwise. I figure her responses from Match.com got filtered out as junk mail. She was pretty annoyed when I told her. Then I asked her if she had checked the junk mail folder on her MSN account and she said “Well, how was I supposed to know to do that?” I reminded her that I had showed her the junk email folder and told her she needed to check it periodically to make sure that email she wanted wasn’t being discarded. She hadn’t written those instructions down along with the other notes she’d made. I told her “Look on the bright side, maybe you didn’t lose that many responses from Match.com because you weren’t logging in to improve your ranking.” That went over well.

That’s just my family. I have friends who are much worse. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind helping out most of the time. Especially if it benefits me… you know, home cooked meals, presents, etc. What bugs me most is when I have to resolve the same problems over and over, and the people I’m helping make no attempt to learn either how to avoid causing the problem or to resolve it on their own. One or the other would be sufficient. Even worse is the expectation that you will be available to fix something when it suits them.