Not everyone is a geek. So why do we act like they are?

Not everyone is a geek. So why do we act like they are?


Not everyone is a Michael Schumacher, but a lot of people have cars. Not everyone is a Robert Capa, but many of us have cameras. The analogy can apply to computers. Not everyone is a geek, but many people have computers. The diversity of computing skill reflects the diversity in the the real world.

Seems like I’m stating the obvious, until you look at how people at various computing skill levels respond to others.

We live in a world with a wide range of skill and need with regards to computers. Many people are content with just a browser, email program and some type of word processing. That minimal level fits their needs. I have a family member who was quite content with their old PC spec'd with 64MB RAM, 233MHz Celeron, 8GB HDD running Windows 98. Until they purchased a MP3 player and digital camera, their need for more advanced hardware and software didn't change.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are all the highly-skilled, creative people who created the application and operating system I'm using to write this blog. Their requirements for hardware, software, challenges and upgraded systems don't compare with the basic user.

In between lies the typical Bell curve of skill levels and needs. Unfortunately, when you bring this diversity of skills and needs together, the result is often conflict.

We see examples of a user beginning to explore other programs beyond the basic level. The user asks a common question on a web forum and pays the price in the responses received. Sometimes the responses don't even answer the question. Or the new user rips an answer they don't understand, instead of admitting their lack of understanding. Go to any web forum and you won't have to search long for conflicts between different user levels.

...Back to stating what SHOULD be the obvious.

A little respect goes a long way. Ask for help politely. If someone was helpful to you, then acknowledge their help. If you disagree with someone, then respond from a basis of fact not flame. I'll never forget a blog listing programs with certain characteristics. One response was highly negative with the respondent claiming the list excluded one specific application. Actually, the application was on the list. At least read the article before deciding you disagree.

Don't take yourselves so seriously. I read articles clearly written from a humorous angle that get treated as a serious statement, and seriously flamed as a result. Serious issues include starving children, war or cures for malaria and cancer. Whether one person prefers Firefox and you prefer Opera is NOT a serious issue.

Speaking of preferences, different choices don't necessarily mean wrong choices. My personal choices lean towards FOSS programs. The next sentence may be sacrilege on a freoftware website. However, if you've evaluated your needs and choose a proprietary application, that is your choice. Personal preference is still alive and well.

These points are not intended to be a sermon, but a challenge. How do YOU respond when faced with these conflicts? Are you part of the problem or the solution?

Category: 

Comments

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It's so much fun. However, I always have a correct and sane response to their query before posting a troll. My policy is to post the correct response 30 minutes after trolling the guy. You may wonder why not just forego the troll? Like I said earlier - it's so much fun.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

When i was young, you had to know a few things before you were able to actually do anything with a computer.

I got my first PC with 10 years, and i had MS-Dos. Yes i know, it was bad, but it was all i had and all i knew and all i could get. So, when i needed to start a program, i had to type some commands first. When i wanted to play games, i had to know about stuff like memory management, sound driver and whatnot. I was the only one to have such a machine.

Today, everything is Point and Drool. And everyone in my family has jumped on the colorful Windows XP train.

When my Dad-in-Law tells me that 'he gets an error when he tries to start that program there and it didn't work', he tried to open some strange file format by doubleclicking it, but he didn't have the right tool for it. They don't care about the difference between a program and a file, they buy machines without knowing what the specs they're reading mean (hands up, who knows the difference between a Megahertz and a Megabyte?), they don't even READ THE [BEEEEP] ERROR DESCRIPTIONS ANYMORE, and come running to me when their ugly little MS-machines stop working, which was their own fault in 99 out of 100 cases. They don't want explanations, not even a solution, they just want a FIX.

How do we solve the problem? Give them Linux and tell them to be happy? Tried that, it was a disaster. "I can't use that, it looks TOTALLY different!" is what you hear. When they're polite. If not, it's more like "What have you done to my computer? Bring back the old one or i'll disown you!!!!"

Please, won't anyone tell me what to do with them?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Not a lot you can do. Just say you which products you will and wont support. On the other hand if the computer dies and they are left crying that they have lost all their data, just leave them with a knoppix disc for a week or until they get used to it saying "im still waiting for the fix". Also make sure that they are not using pirated software (refuse to obtain or install pirated software for them), because when it hits the hip-pocket some people will start to listen.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Please, won't anyone tell me what to do with them?

How about banishing them to /dev/null? :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It took me a while to realise that Microsoft has an underpaid group of support technicians. They're called nephews and nieces by many computer users. My solution has been simple, I refuse to help people not using Free Software. I help my dad when he has problems with OpenOffice.org (on Windows mind you). I won't help them with Outlook Express. My sister wanted a new computer and I said sure. I can get you one at dealer price but only if you run Linux on it. She now runs Linux, she emails she draws maps in xfig (xfig - I hadn't even heard of it!), she writes in OpenOffice.org and send Word documents to others. It has been an empowering experience for her. She recently went to a computer store to buy a printer, the puffed up sale rep saw an easy target and gave lots of upsells. Here simple sentence, "Yes but will it work with Linux", got him scurrying to his manager to find out. The tables turned and she was treated like an intelligent customer not an easily befuddled woman.

So my solution is simple. I refuse to be the unpaid support arm for for Microsoft. Some of my family go elsewhere, that's fine with me. For me the proof is that I have onverted one or two to Free Software and I don't have to compromise my views on freedom to support the others.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I cannot NOT support them. They live in the same house, and they won't stop whining until i do. And it would run a lot into the "Told you so" stuff mentioned before.

It's great when you have the success of liberating someone from the worst OS in the World, but it doesn't seem to work with my folks.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Yes, you can!

repeat after me .... "Yes, I can help you, but No, I won't help you!"
or try:
"Yes, I can help you by changing yo to Linux so that I will help you."

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Fully agree with the earlier responses. A certain point in time someone I know had had a virus attack and his Win98 PC did not work all right anymore after cleaning. He asked me if I couldn't reinstall Win98 for him. Told him that I don't want to do Windows anymore, but that I was ready to get him up and running with Linux. It took more time to answer his questions on what this would mean for him than to install it and give him the basic training required for him to start using it (two evenings of work, including the recovery of his data). He's now a very happy Linux user. Never bugged me again for help, but each time we see each other he thanks me again for having him helped out.
Linux is a hobby for me. Windows is not. I'm glad to help people with Linux. Helping them with Windows just is boring and annoying. And I tell them that!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

put the box on the store shelves with the tag line "instead of windows"
"no other software necessary to buy"

watch the adventurous non-geeks start adopting.

Terry Hancock's picture

You do realize there are a number of different GNU/Linux distributions that do precisely what you suggest, right?

I was going to say "it didn't work", but of course, that's an oversimplification. For some people it did work, and those people are now Linux users, though they probably abandoned the distro that originally brought them into the fold (or are getting it for free).

It's more accurate to say it's not a very robust business model, and that's probably why Red Hat stopped bothering with it. They now focus on their "enterprise" edition, and have left the business of satisfying consumers to the free Fedora project, which is spun off of the Red Hat distribution.

And of course, it can be said that while it does attract a few people, the bulk of the market is still too nervous about switching to try the alternatives available to them.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I congratulate you on touching on a subject that not only affects computer forums and computers but society in general. Respect for others seems to have waned over the past couple of decades but I think it is coming back, mainly because people are realising they themselves don't like being treated without respect.

Again, well done :)
Bri.
[Australian 34yo]
---
'Be actively nice and have integrity'

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

FOSS SOFTWARE has been an amazing and consistent success but you are correct that some in the community have never attained the social skills or emotional maturity to be able to communicate properly to the user community is so needs to survive and thrive. Those that act in a negative way toward new users of FOSS do us all of FOSS community a large disservice. Most often it is their own fears and inadequacies that get in the way of them interfacing with other people or realizing that they are not the well source of all human knowledge because they used vi err..once... Most of the Axxholes are actually the newbs anyway but are afraid of being discovered. People need to grow up and learn that we ALL have everything to learn and should be all about SHARING and COMMUNICATING. Community based software needs to maintain a positive stance and consistent efforts to bring EVERYONE into the know about FOSS. Grow up people! Go outside, get a girl/boyfriend and maybe some therapy and maybe you will actually learn something. And from one FOSS advocate who is not an ass.. Long live FOSS!

Laurie Langham's picture

Yeah, its worth remembering that people wouldn't ask questions in forums if they already knew the answer. The next time you feel tempted to give some naive question a blast, you could be discouraging a new Linux user who will return defeated to the 'told you so' smirks from the M$ community. That's a thought that would be pretty hard to live with.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

My parent's PC didn't open .pps files in slideshow view. After some googling I found the answer: Powerpoint's "detect and repair" function. About five minutes later, all my father's email had disappeared. (Yes, my father's EMAIL disappeared after executing a command in POWERPOINT). I read every message box after executing this command and none of them made me even remotely suspect that this was going to happen.

I spent about 4 hours restoring his email which was hidden somewhere on his hard disk. All the settings had to be restored manually.

I told my parents and everyone else that from now on, they could rely on me for help with FOSS programs, and maybe some proprietary ones, but never againg with anything touched by M$.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

This calls to mind the famous joke about how to get good support from certain GNU/Linux user forums/mailing lists.

If you ask a polite question about your problem - "How do I configure my graphics card?" - you'll get flamed, called a n00b and generally insulted, told to return to Windows etc.

If, on the other hand, you say "OMFFSM! Linux is t3h l4m3!!! My graphics card works fine on Windows but Linux can't even get it configured!!!" then you will get a flurry of responses setting out in full technical detail precisely how to do what's needed...

pvdg's picture
Submitted by pvdg on

This thread is a good example: if you don't register you are immediately called an "Anonymous coward"! ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I've found out that the best way to stop being asked to support others is to refer them to the "manufacturer"--usually meaning MS. Hey, they made it, they should know, right? Then they watch their wallet get empty and ask about using "that linux thing you're using". They look (and feel horror) at the price of MS-Word, I tell them to look at OpenOffice.org; Photoshop (usually to correct red-eyes in pictures), I suggest they look at GIMP for Windows. The best way to get converts is not so much to go around telling people, "You're free now, run GNU/Linux!"; it's best to let them know, little by little, that there's something else, under better terms than they got from MS. (I think Asimov said it (in one of his Foundation novels) that with suffcient grumbling, the leader will fall; no, I can't remember which novel.)

As for the forums...that's another matter. Quite frankly if I went into the control room of a nuclear power plant and asked, "excuse me, what are atoms?" I'd expect a pretty strong reaction from the personnel (and security). Getting flamed is the price to pay for going into the wrong newsgroup (done it once; that's when I learned I should read the forum/newsgroup FAQ). May not be the nicest or best learning experience, but it was effective in my case. It's not as if typing "linux help" into the Google search box on Firefox doesn't bring up linuxhelp.net, linuxquestions.org and several "beginner" answer sites.

Author information

Chris Mostek's picture