The problems are not your fault!
© 2013 Stan Yack

Has your experience with the Internet taught you that the "S" in ISP (an acronym for "Internet Service Provider") stands for "stress"? For some of us, just managing to get and stay online can be pretty stressful. How long was it after your own arrival in cyberspace that you were overwhelmed by the digital debris of the information landfill? Or bothered by unwanted email advertising and fake get-rich schemes? Or maybe even harmed by malicious software?

Want to know what to do to relieve your angst when trouble strikes?

First take a deep breath, or two. I mean that literally: meditation can be an excellent stress reducer. You might even try out my own theatrical technique for remaining calm.

When you're ready to tackle the problems calmly, prepare a problem checklist.

In the (likely) event that meditation and summarizing the problem doesn't suggest a solution, call the (hopefully) toll-free number of the technical "help" line of the most likely culprit. When a computer answers, try to find the key presses that most quickly let you escape the automated voice response system that's there to prevent you from reaching an operator.

Even when you finally break out of the voice jail and reach a human being, you may not feel that you are actually being helped. Like many of my own computer call centre conversations, yours are probably with agents who seem to be reading from standardized scripts and ignoring your specific problem descriptions. Well that may be actually what's going on! Workers in most electronic sweatshop call centres are trained to rigidly follow predefined conversation paths in order that they spend as little time as possible on the line with the customer.

On the other hand, you may encounter a truly helpful call centre agent; but agents like that don't usually last very long, and even more rare is one who'll admit these heretical truths about computer failures, that:

So stand up for your rights as a human being! If and when you become a cyber-victim, don't just sheepishly accept the blame. The experiences of my clients like Phip, Nancy, and Susan and Bill are examples of the cyber-world truth that those responsible for our difficulties with computers are not the people who buy and use them. The claimed existence of some human failing that makes computers hard for us to install and use is the 21st century equivalent of alligators in the sewers. But many of us accept that myth, some of us even admitting to so-called computer "illiteracy". (As if an understanding of the workings of the latest computer gizmo is as fundamental a cultural skill as being able to read and write!)

It is true that computer systems do work properly most of the time; but for a tool now so essential to our professional and personal well-being, working "most of the time" is not enough. Because when a computer tool fails, we can lose a support that we have allowed to become indispensable. Not having email may leave you unable to contact your suppliers; not being able to print a document may mean you can't send invoices to your customers; not being able to Skype may cut you off from your grandchildren.

Modern computer applications have become so complex and confusing that for the truly paranoid they may seem to be part of a plot by extra-terrestrials to wear us down before an invasion! It's often not at all obvious "how to get there from here". For example, when you're using a word processor to write your daily journal, do you know how to control interfering, automatic features like the spell-checker that rejects all your technical terms and abbreviations, or the grammar checker that recommends the writing style of a dictionary entry or fast food ad?

The root causes of computer failures are almost never comprehensible to anyone unschooled in the arcane digital arts, and often not even to the wizards. Like confused children feigning precocious understanding in an adult realm, we must just nod our heads at the gibberish explanations of the supposed experts.

And at the risk of sounding like a socialist radical, I say the the global economic system is partly to blame for computer reliability problems. To maintain regular cash flows in a very competitive industry, manufacturers of software (and to a lesser extent of hardware) often rush less-than-well-tested products to market; and when things inevitably go wrong, we users are bullied into accepting the blame. Who are we to tell them any different? After all, as the vendors can point out, we may not have performed the latest "required" software upgrade, or replaced our aging (i.e. over one-year-old) PC hardware, or installed a higher-speed Internet connection, or switched to digital chewing gum!

Sorry about that; I got a bit carried away with the last example. I've obviously gotten a little worked up, and it's probably time for me to step away from the computer and do some deep breathing exercises ...

But I will say: Get mad as Hell and don't take it any more!

Because if you're reading and understanding this, you're not just a customer, you're a human being. Computers, software, and businesses are not people, and don't have the fundamental rights of human beings (however the US Supreme Court may have misrepresented that).

Stan Yack
Instructional Designer and Softsmith