What they are really doing when they fix our computers


Too bad that rule about older making wiser doesn’t apply when it comes to computers. A lot of us rely on people half our age for digital problem-solving. Our children, other young relatives, offspring of friends or neighbours, youthful computer consultants.

After turning over our computers to these experts what do we do? Get busy with some paper work? Leave the room and make tea?

If you’ve been too intimidated by those young computer experts to stick around and watch what they’re doing, then make a careful study of this diagram from the webcomic xkcd.com. It shows What They Are Really Doing When They Fix Our Computers. tech_support_cheat_sheet   We technophobes of a certain age are products of our history. We grew up looking at paper, not computer screens. So we would do well to stop staring into the middle distance and start scrutinising our screens.

But where to look? Try the screen real estate on the bottom left. It’s where the computer’s Central Processing Unit reports on what it’s doing: “connecting to…” then “waiting for…” and “transferring data from…” until it’s finally “done”.

Watching this CPU play-by-play offers something to do besides endlessly hitting the keyboard. Which is a bit like kicking a vending machine when the can won’t come out. Not only is it totally ineffective but all those redundant keystrokes can awaken the dreaded spinning orb, AKA Not Responding. You may find that using eyes before fingers can prevent this.

So work a bit on your screen observation skills and then return to the What They Are Really Doing When They Fix Our Computers flow chart. Notice that the first step is to find something on the screen to click. There’s no need to agonize about what to choose. The experts apparently just click at random.

But what if after much random clicking of menu items on a carefully observed screen, the computer’s problem remains unsolved? WWYCED? (What Would Young Computer Experts Do?) They would ask. Ask who? Google. Or Firefox or Bing or whatever search engine they use.

They would type the name of the problematic program and a short question about what they’re trying to trouble-shoot – ending with a question mark. Or a variation on this theme, using an asterisk. By typing in a partial statement with * indicating the information needed. 

The last steps the experts take are simply to await the instructions that result from this searching. And then follow them. 

If none of the above works, there is a recommended time limit on further efforts at fixing the computer problem. How long before it’s time to ask a fellow human being? (Or give up?) Half an hour sounds like a reasonable limit. Too much intense screen-watching is bad for your eyes.

So some easy eye exercises are advised. It turns out that staring into the middle distance has its merits after all.  


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