11.20.2008

rant about rant

There are few things that bug me more than someone who puts down people for supposed ignorance while displaying ignorance of their own. Maybe it's the kind of thing that should make me laugh. Unfortunately, it makes me grit my teeth.

Following a few links, I found myself at a website called Read The Fucking Manual. It appears to be an IT person complaining about computer users who call for tech support earlier in the process than this person thinks they should.

I have no doubt that some people who call companies for tech support might do more to solve the problem on their own before they call.

On the other hand, tech support exists for a reason. Computers are available to all, including people with poor reading skills, people who have trouble learning from a manual, and people with zero computer experience.

The tech support number doesn't say you must struggle in frustration for a certain number of hours or days before calling. If you've spent money on a product, and you can't get it to work, you should be able to call for help. Presumably the tech support person is being paid for her time. She's not doing you a favour. She's doing her job.

In addition, many tech manuals are poorly written and decidedly non-user-friendly. It's unreasonable to expect someone with little or no computer experience to read an entire manual when trying to solve a problem, especially when the problem may be solved more quickly and efficiently by making a phone call.

Most people don't like to wait on hold, identify themselves several times and, often, be spoken to like they're a moron. Meaning, many people avoid calling tech support unless they absolutely have to.

But I understand that tech people don't always like their jobs or the people they are hired to help, and they need to vent. That's fine. Many an amusing email has been circulated with a punchline revealing that the caller hasn't plugged in the computer, and the hilariously sarcastic tech person tells them to send it back because "you're too stupid to own a computer".

While you're venting, however, you might want to make sure you're not displaying some ignorance of your own.

"...The first thing they will do when they experience a problem installing or using any computer hardware or software is panic, get angry and then run head-over-heals to the manufacturer and demand to be taught from scratch..."

The correct expression is "head over heels", as in the heel of one's foot, not heals, as in a wound heals.

I also question the use of "head over heels" in this context. From Dictionary.com:
68. head over heels,
a. headlong, as in a somersault: He tripped and fell head over heels into the gully.
b. intensely; completely: head over heels in love.
c. impulsively; carelessly: They plunged head over heels into the fighting.

I suppose you could make a case for (c), but I don't think so. I think it's just the wrong expression.

"...without even considering the remote possibility of the problem lying with the user, and not the product."

The problem isn't "lying with" anyone. Perhaps they haven't considered "the possibility that the problem lies with the user". Or perhaps the problem is just "with" the user.

"...and it can also be found in a tiny file, inconclusively named "Readme.txt"..."

If the name of the file is inconclusive, we can't draw a conclusion about its name. The name is ambiguous. I'm pretty sure that's not what the writer means.

This may seem like nitpicking, and in another context, it would be. We all make grammatical mistakes, we all occasionally type the wrong sound-alike word. (Although presumably this person proofread this page at least once before posting.)

I'm picking on this person's grammar and usage for a reason. He or she is yelling at other people for needing help, but clearly she sometimes needs help, too - with writing.

It's all right to need help writing. It's also all right to need tech support, and not to read an entire computer manual when you need it.

23 comments:

L-girl said...

P.S. I didn't take it personally, either. I'm pretty good with whatever tech stuff I own, and I'll do anything to avoid a phone call.

John F said...

I work in desktop support for the government, so you've hit on a topic near and dear to my heart.

I agree with you. It IS fun, after a long, frustrating day, to tell the odd funny story about what I've encountered, but this guy is showing contempt for his users. That's unacceptable.

I never mind if people ask me questions, even ones where the answers seem obvious to me. A lot of my colleagues have been here for 25 years or more. When they started in their jobs, computers were not a common feature of the workplace. If your employer introduces new equipment to the workplace and expects you to use it effectively, it is incumbent on them to give you adequate training. In most cases, this did not occur. I recently had to show a tradesman how to use a mouse, and that's fine. I know who to blame for the situation.

People are sometimes apologetic about asking me questions. I always tell them that no one comes out of the womb knowing about computers, and that it's impossible to know everything. I then follow up with a couple of stories of really stupid things I, the supposed expert, have done.

There's the odd person who declares that he or she know nothing about computers, and seems proud of it. They'll smile and say things like, "It doesn't matter how many times you show me that, I'll forget in five minutes!" My sympathy evaporates in these cases. But then, I notice such individuals tend to be unpopular with many service departments, not just IT.

John F said...

Oh, and when the writer says that 'readme.txt' is inconclusively named, I think he's using sarcasm. Badly.

James said...

If the name of the file is inconclusive, we can't draw a conclusion about its name. The name is ambiguous. I'm pretty sure that's not what the writer means.

I'm pretty sure the writer was making a clumsy attempt as sarcasm, something like "the file oh-so-ambiguously named Readme.txt".

Sarah Gates said...

It appears to be an IT person complaining about computer users who call for tech support earlier in the process than this person thinks they should.

Ha! If this is the case, I sure wish they would believe me when I tell them what I have already done. I'm a pretty savvy user of technology, and I always try to avoid tech support because they make me insane!

You make a good point about recognizing our own strengths and weaknesses though - there shouldn't be anything wrong with asking for help, with tech, writing or anything else really.

L-girl said...

I wondered if the "inconclusively" was sarcasm. Allan thought it wasn't - I wasn't sure.

Sarcasm often doesn't come across online.

L-girl said...

John, you have a great attitude, one I wish more people would adopt.

I do a lot of informal training at work, because I'm more experienced with the applications we use than anyone else. If anyone feels shy or uncomfortable about not knowing something, I always say, we're not born knowing this stuff, I had to learn it too.

When people are proud of ignorance, that's a different story. I never want to help anyone like that!

Sarah hit on the essential piece, I think: it's ok to need help.

L-girl said...

If this is the case, I sure wish they would believe me when I tell them what I have already done.

That's a common complaint with tech support. I share that frustration! "I already tried that... yes, I already tried that... yes, I did that, it didn't work, that's why I called..."

Enid said...

Hi L-Girl,

Though I understand your point and appreciate that you're looking out for the victims of this idiotic blogger...I must contest; as I too work with the general public, face-to-face, in large groups, for 9-12 hours each and every day.

The fact of the matter is, even when you are providing a service to someone--with the intention to help them, or if you're allowing someone to "rent" your space, or use your things--there are MANY people who are extremely disrespectful, unnecessarily rude, and often entitled. At the end of the day, these are the people who remain stuck in your head because, in the name of customer service, the reality of the situation is that you can never return the favor.

So I get it when this blog-nerd takes to the net to voice is his frustrations--typing furiously, making typos, as he wipes the sweat from his forehead; unable to express himself any other way.

Believe me, if I told every meat-head what I REALLY thought when they call me a B*tch for asking them nicely not to toss 100lb dumbbells on the ground, I'd be out of of job.

That said, it's quite obvious that this guy is obnoxious--but not everyone is eloquent enough to express themselves without sounding ignorant.

Maybe I am missing the point, but I guess what I'm trying to say is... I get it.

www.enidbloomelleblog.blogspot.com

deang said...

I'm one of the ones who will occasionally forget in five minutes what I've just been told about some computer issue. My employability has at times been severely limited because I can't remember from one second to the next what's in what menu. I've also been in the position of having to help people learn computer skills new to them.

I cannot stand this attitude of some that everyone should not only know about computers but be interested in them. I've worked clerical service positions with coworkers who had sheer contempt for the people they were supposed to be helping with computer problems, coworkers who thought that computer knowledge was a key sign of intelligence in general. Never mind that new versions come out so often that those of us with limited interest in computers can barely keep up and have no interest in doing so. Planned obsolescence, anybody?

Anyway, my difficulty with learning computer skills has made me an empathetic teacher, so I'm glad for it. But people's spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors in general have gotten so bad that I can't imagine teaching English these days, something I used to love to do.

L-girl said...

The fact of the matter is, even when you are providing a service to someone--with the intention to help them, or if you're allowing someone to "rent" your space, or use your things--there are MANY people who are extremely disrespectful, unnecessarily rude, and often entitled. At the end of the day, these are the people who remain stuck in your head because, in the name of customer service, the reality of the situation is that you can never return the favor.

I can see that. Totally.

but not everyone is eloquent enough to express themselves without sounding ignorant.

And that is totally fine! Like I said, I would never pick on the wrong words or the bad grammar, but I felt like the guy is picking on people... so he was fair game.

Maybe I am missing the point, but I guess what I'm trying to say is... I get it.

Cool. :)

L-girl said...

I've worked clerical service positions with coworkers who had sheer contempt for the people they were supposed to be helping with computer problems,

To me, that's inexcuseable. A teacher that doesn't respect her student is starting the lesson already several steps behind.

Never mind that new versions come out so often that those of us with limited interest in computers can barely keep up and have no interest in doing so. Planned obsolescence, anybody?

Good point.

Anyway, my difficulty with learning computer skills has made me an empathetic teacher, so I'm glad for it. But people's spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors in general have gotten so bad that I can't imagine teaching English these days, something I used to love to do.

Yay Dean, well said!

James said...

Believe me, if I told every meat-head what I REALLY thought when they call me a B*tch for asking them nicely not to toss 100lb dumbbells on the ground, I'd be out of of job.

That's why Not Always Right exists. But there's a huge difference in tone between NAR and a lot of the "lusers are soooo dumb" posts you see.

Computer Stupidities has a good collection of "clueless users" anecdotes -- but they also have sections for "clueless techs" and "clueless sales guys".

L-girl said...

I love Not Always Right!

But there's a huge difference in tone between NAR and a lot of the "lusers are soooo dumb" posts you see.

I guess that's what it is, as John F pointed out: tone. The condescending "you people are all idiots, I'm so smart" tone.

John F said...

I cannot stand this attitude of some that everyone should not only know about computers but be interested in them...Never mind that new versions come out so often that those of us with limited interest in computers can barely keep up and have no interest in doing so.

If you're required to use a given piece of software for work, and IT rolls out a new version with major changes, then it's your employer's responsibility to update your training.

I don't have a problem with computer users having a limited interest in computers. I have a limited interest in cars, but I drive one everyday. If it malfunctions, I take it to the garage.

I won't look down on you if you don't have or want a home computer. I do have a home computer, and I do want it, but I often ignore it for days at a time in favour of a good book.

My earlier comments were directed at people who seem to take pride in their ignorance, brag about it a some length, and treat the fact that they have to use a computer at work as if it's my (the IT guy's) fault.

L-girl said...

John F, I don't think Dean G's comments were directed at you. I'm pretty sure they were not.

I don't have a problem with computer users having a limited interest in computers. I have a limited interest in cars, but I drive one everyday. If it malfunctions, I take it to the garage.

This is a theme and example I use all the time.

I can't tell you how many times I've been laughed at for not having an interest in something, preferring to pay someone else to do that task for me, someone with better skills and more experience.

It could be cooking for large numbers of people vs having a party catered, buying vs making curtains, having wood floors refinished, and any number of other projects.

Not everyone is into DIY home improvements. It doesn't mean we're sitting around staring at stupid TV shows all day. We're doing other productive, interesting things - activities we prefer.

Likewise, the people who are into home repairs are not, for example, doing activism, writing books, reading books, or whatever else I do.

I don't laugh at people for not doing those things, yet people laugh at me all the time because I paid someone else (that's the big sin) to do something I theoretically could do myself.

Accent on theoretically, since with no experience or tools, is kind of hard to make a pair of curtains or a finished floor look professionally done.

M@ said...

I'm in agreement with everyone else in this thread, but I'd like to add one thing. The idea that a user should check out the readme.txt file is complete idiocy. I do read them when I feel it's necessary. I've written a good number of them myself. And they're almost always useless.

No one can agree with what's supposed to be contained in a readme file. They could be a list of the updates and so on for the current version; before-you-begin notes about the software to ensure you've got the right hardware and software to run it before you install it; configuration information; startup options; copyright and licensing information; and any combination of the above.

Spot the common thread there? Those files are for technical people -- not for end users. That's true to the point where "readme" actually means "do not read this" in the minds of most users, I would say.

This is the kind of snide arrogance that I see again and again from technical people. It's annoying and small-minded and counter-productive, and it seems to me to be far, far more common in the IT industry than anywhere else.

Then again, maybe things are starting to change. I recently started using a Vonage VOIP home phone, and the instructions were very intelligently put together, handling users with various levels of technical knowledge in a useful and productive way. As a tech writer I was quite impressed.

I also started with a new internet provider recently Teksavvy, and was forced to phone tech support to get things running. The guy at the other end quickly understood my level of technical comfort, and adjusted his instructions accordingly. He also was cheerful and upbeat, and joked around a little. It never got tiring or annoying, or even unprofessional -- it was like getting help from a very knowledgeable and patient friend.

So maybe it's changing. The industry has a long way to go, but there are some hopeful signs.

John F said...

John F, I don't think Dean G's comments were directed at you. I'm pretty sure they were not.

I think you're right. You'll have to pardon me; I've had a long week. The people who write and distribute viruses are sorely testing my opposition to capital punishment. ;-)

I can't tell you how many times I've been laughed at for not having an interest in something, preferring to pay someone else to do that task for me, someone with better skills and more experience.

I hear you. I bought a nice old oak desk that needs some work. I've arranged for a local professional woodworker to pick it up for repairs and refinishing. One of my coworkers was essentially laughing at me for not doing the project myself. I told him that, while I love older furniture, I don't particularly love carpentry, and that it would look like crap if I did it.

"But think of the sense of accomplishment you'll get from doing it yourself!" he said.

"And think of the sense of disappointment I'll get right after that when it winds up looking like crap."

L-girl said...

The idea that a user should check out the readme.txt file is complete idiocy. ... Those files are for technical people -- not for end users.

I was going to mention that! I used to open them, then quickly realized they were not applicable to me, and stopped.

This is the kind of snide arrogance that I see again and again from technical people. It's annoying and small-minded and counter-productive, and it seems to me to be far, far more common in the IT industry than anywhere else.

I have to agree with that.

Then again, maybe things are starting to change. I recently started using a Vonage VOIP home phone, and the instructions were very intelligently put together, handling users with various levels of technical knowledge in a useful and productive way. As a tech writer I was quite impressed.

I've been with Vonage many years, and their tech support has always been excellent. I had a huge problem switching from Vonage US to Vonage Canada but not changing my number - or changing one number but not another - very complicated! It was very frustrating, but the tech end was excellent.

Recently we had some cable replaced by Rogers, and afterwards, my phone wasn't working properly. There were so many possible factors, I didn't know where to start. I called Vonage, and they walked me through the whole thing - politely, competently and without condescension. It was like a model for what is possible!

Allan also recently had an excellent experience with Dell, same kind of thing.

Small sample size, I know, but it does make me think things are changing, away from this "RTFM" style.

L-girl said...

M@, good description of what makes good tech support, btw. :)

L-girl said...

"But think of the sense of accomplishment you'll get from doing it yourself!" he said.

To which I reply, I'm very familiar with that sense of accomplishment. I get it from other pursuits. Meanwhile, I like my table/curtains/whatever to look professional, so I hire a professional to do it.

redsock said...

I was on the phone with Dell at the beginning of this week, with questions about reinstalling XP (service packs, drivers, etc.) after a total system wipe.

The guy was beyond helpful. He connected to my computer remotely and installed all of the drivers I needed for me. Considering how much I was dreading a few days of headaches, it was probably the best time I've ever had with a tech support person. And I have had no problem with the computer this week.

So if you call Dell and Brandon answers, you're in luck!

impudent strumpet said...

RTFM is so passé. It's the 21st century, STFW already!

I always tell them that no one comes out of the womb knowing about computers

We'll get there. I've been using them since I was 2, and that's before they even started marketing to kids.

"But think of the sense of accomplishment you'll get from doing it yourself!" he said.

"And think of the sense of disappointment I'll get right after that when it winds up looking like crap."


OMG, exactly! I actually get that sense of accomplishment from successfully troubleshooting my computer. But anything physically tangible I'm not going to touch unless I'm certain I can't possibly make it worse. I've spent far too many hours of my life working diligently only to inadvertently ruin stuff.