5 Reasons the Friend Whose Computer You’re Fixing is Frustrated (While Simultaneously Being Grateful)

I’m a computer nerd in my own right — I was a software engineer for 8 years.  I’ve written and debugged code in C, C++, Fortran (yes, really), Perl, Pascal and Motif.  I’ve developed on different platforms, I know what the command line is (and how to get there).  I haven’t written any code in over 5 years, so I’m a little rusty, but I do know my way around my computer, at least a little.  I’ve never really been a computer geek, though — I can write software, but I know only a little about hardware (enough to do my job) and I’ve never considered anything I do with my computer a hobby — it was just work.  So, when my PC has an “issue”, I tread lightly — I know enough to help myself, but also to sometimes get into trouble.  My husband, who is an “official” computer nerd (i.e., he’s actually built his own system and reads computer related publications for fun) is our household computer guru, and he does any fixing our computer usually needs.

If you’re not a computer guru, it can be daunting when you have a computer problem.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I’ve seen many friends and family go through it as well.  So, when I saw “6 Reasons the Guy Who’s Fixing Your Computer Hates You“, I wanted to be an advocate for those of us on the other side.

1.  We never know how to explain the problem the right way.  Computer gurus have a language we don’t entirely understand — like the way the Eskimos have 34 different words for snow.  We say, “My computer crashed”, and you respond with a litany of questions:  “Did the whole system shut down?  Did you have to do a hard reboot?  Or did the process hang?”  Uh-huh.  Yeah.  One of those.  When we don’t know how to explain it the right way, you instantly assume that 1, we don’t know what we’re talking about AT ALL and 2, whatever happened was the direct result of an action on our part.  My lack of knowledge of your tech-speak does not mean that I don’t know anything.  Please remember that I’m trying to explain a problem I don’t entirely understand in a language I don’t speak.  Being ignorant of the nuance doesn’t make me stupid.

2.  You probably offered to help without actually being asked.  This is how it happens:  a computer issue comes up in conversation.  “Sorry, I didn’t see that email, I’ve been having trouble getting to my email for the past couple of days”.  Response from friendly computer guru:  “Oh!  I can help with that.  How are you accessing your email?  Is it local or on the server?”  (See above for the problem this causes the person with the broken computer and the eye-rolling that the guru responds with.)  We really, really, really appreciate you helping us with our computer.  But a lot of the time, you’re very confident you can fix the problem, even if you don’t know exactly what it is.  It may be that we’re savvy enough to have tried a lot of the most obvious things (I usually have) or maybe not, but either way, you typically offer to help after having heard a non-specific one sentence description of the problem.  When you show up to help and the problem is not at all what you thought it was, that’s not entirely our fault.  (Also, admit it — it’s a little bit of an ego thing to be able to ride in to the rescue and fix everything.)

3.  Sometimes the stuff you do really DOES mess up our system.  A lot of computer guru friends assume that our computers are set up like theirs — i.e., in the perfect computer guru way.  We don’t spend hours a day on our computers, cleaning up files, compressing stuff, making sure everything is completely up to date (if we did, we probably wouldn’t have this problem in the first place).  Our not-up-to-date version of the program that the program you’re installing is going to try to communicate with may cause things to completely fall apart 20 minutes after you leave.  (Most recently, my husband upgraded my iPhone to iOS 5 — which was great except that my computer no longer recognized it and I couldn’t sync.  I fixed it myself (yay!) by reinstalling the drivers, but the point is, it legitimately didn’t work for a while.)  To us, a computer is simply a tool we use to do things — check email, keep pictures, write documents — if we can’t do those things now, but we could before your help, it’s frustrating.

4.  You have probably failed to set reasonable expectations.  Your offer to help is usually coupled with a comment like, “Oh, no problem!  That’s easy, I can fix that!”  When you show up and park yourself in our living room for the evening, it isn’t what we expected.  We don’t actually mind if it takes a long time — we might not have minded if you had to take the computer home and keep it for a week — we just didn’t expect it.  We also didn’t understand that something that is “really easy” was going to result in us losing our settings (which we don’t remember how to set, no matter how simple you assure us it will be) or years of our files or pictures.

5.  The eye-rolling.  No, we don’t know as much as you do about computers — not by a lot.  If we did, you wouldn’t be helping us.  But that doesn’t make us stupid.  We can see you rolling your eyes, we hear the sighs and exasperated sounds.  I know it’s frustrating to try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language, but try to give us a break.  We know all kinds of things that you don’t know about, too (just get me started talking about Schrodinger’s Cat, or the best way to teach a waltz pivot, if you don’t believe me).  You just don’t ask us for help with those things (although maybe you should) so it doesn’t come up.

Sincerely, we appreciate your help.  You are doing us a favor, giving us your time and expertise, and possibly saving us a substantial amount of money, all for free and motivated only by kindness.  Thank you.  But try to be a little more understanding, and really, quit it with the eye-rolling.