musings { family tech support, or why I'm not a nice person

[prepare thyself, this be a major rant]

I'm a terrible son and a terrible grandson.

Here's why. I get pissed at my family. I get pissed at them because they ask me to help them with their computer problems.

Its not all their fault. I bring some of this on myself. I'm the one who purchased an iMac for my father, so he wouldn't buy a 386 laptop with black and white monitor and windows 3.1 from a pawn shop. I'm the one who purchased a brand new Windows XP machine for my grandmother when the old one she had, donated graciously by a 'friend' of the family and held together with duct tape, literally exploded. I'm the one who installed the Operating Systems for them, hardened them so that they would not be instantly 'pwn3d' when they set foot into cyberspace. Configured their crappy ISP software (Juno for my grandmother, ECE for my father) because the tech support at those places is what happens when you think you know something, but then binge drink until the pain goes away, or you smoke way too much pot and listen to Pink Floyd backwards. I did all this, so I am to blame.

Why am I upset? Simple. I'm never the first one they call, I'm always the last. They tell me I'm the only one they know who knows anything about how, as my grandma puts it, "these silly things work." Yet I am always the last to call. Before today, I never got mad at them. I, with a smile would drive to their house, spend hours undoing and fixing their machines (instead of visiting with and being with them) and getting them back online. I must be a real ass to them in someway however, because I am the last one they call.

I'm feeling a bit taken for granted. I'm feeling a bit hurt. They didn't consult me until after they had purchased Juno, or McAffee, or MSN. It doesn't work and they want me to fix it. I used to try my best to muddle through helping them. But its over. I'm done.

My father called me today as I was re-locating from the windowless office to finish my day at my favorite window at a coffeeshop in Rochester. His internet didn't work. I had a moment of deja'vu. This is exactly how my grandmother's call started not three days earlier. They had taken their iMac to a friends house to use her DSL to download the security updates. This is not a bad thing, as there were 16 updates to download, and it would have taken days over dial-up, and ECE disconnects after an hour, because they're the kind of ISP that couldn't find its ass with two hands, a hunting dog, a mirror, and various high-paid consultants pointing it out. All their friends in the area have MSN, because its 'faster'. How I'm not sure, everyone is on dial-up since only a few places have DSL, but Qwest is rolling out DSL sometime later this year. Well they have been unhappy with their dial-up ECE speeds, and I don't blame them for that, but in honesty they were getting good speeds for where they were. But instead of asking me what I thought, and letting me do some research, they talked to their friends and decided to get MSN. Then they called Qwest and MSN and asked to get it. The shit-wits at tech support were absolutely no help b/c they had Mac OSX and fed them various lines of bullshit and lies that I am not going to repeat because its the kind of bullshit that makes me see red. They told them that they can't get MSN for Mac OSX, which is sort of true according to this link. And then they proceeded to have them go and do something that caused all their network preferences to disappear. This prompted my dad to finally call me. I was walking outside and stopped to talk, as the wind is just enough that walking makes it hard to hear. We proceed to go back and forth for 20 minutes (I made the mistake of telling my dad he made a mistake, which my father does not tolerate well) and I start to freeze my ass off. It turns out all that needed to be done was to plug the USB modem back into the USB port and let the system re-detect the modem and it automatically reconfigured everything back to what would allow them to connect. They did thank me, and we apologized for getting upset with each other, I'm having a shitacular week (its getting better now at least) because of DST. I'm under a lot or pressure and stress and I just snapped.

So for my mental health, I'm done. I live too far away from them and their issues are not ones I can fix from memory over a hundred miles away on the phone.


AllThingsSpring said...

I too have had my share of family and friend tech support requests. Most of the time I'm happy to do it, and even refuse payment from those in the inner circle when they offer it spontaneously (unlike people who aren't family or the closest of friends - the first rule of being an IT consultant is "Don't work for free.")

A major problem with tech support requests, family and otherwise, is that I usually don't get talked to until the end of the process. As you say, GeistX, they just go out and do something without asking you your opinion.

I deal with tech all day long. I read about tech many hours a week. I play with software and hardware, try to break it, try to tweak it, see it being used in real-world situations. I know about what is out, what is going to be out in the future, and even the politics and ideologies behind tech. In short, I'm as close to a bona fide expert as most people can be.

So instead of availing themselves to very well informed expert advice, they go out and buy whatever crap tech or shitware or overpriced service they think they want, or that their friends use, or that the salesman conned them into buying. And then when it doesn't work, then they call me, and I have to sort it out.

I've worked in IT for nearly a decade and have come to a number of conslusions

1) A large portion of all technology is just crap. Most good technology is either free or costs a lot more money than you expect.

2) Free software is often better than commercial software.

3) A whole lot of commercial product is crap, and often it is intentionally crippled. Consumer level stuff is the worst, but this is even so in software that costs tens of thousands of dollars.

4) Tech is complicated. It isn't enough to know what the marketing department says about a piece of tech, you have to delve into the guts of how things work, you have to know the politics and policies of the companies producing it, and you have to see things for yourself and read the fine print all the time.

5) Most people are extremely lazy when it comes to tech. 95% of problems boil down to uninformed users. Users barely know how to use the technology they use. They are afraid of experimenting, learning how things work, trying things, or educating themselves.

6) This is to a large degree, although not entirely, a generational thing. I have considerably fewer support requests from people in their 20's. Pilgrims to computers are much more work than those of us native born with computers as a normal thing since childhood.

7) Tech people have less of an agenda regarding getting you the tools you want and need. When people ask me what computer to buy, what software to use, my questions usually start with "What do you want to use it for?" and "What is your budget?" I'm not a salesman, I'm not trying to sell you anything you don't need.

8) My tech expertise does not extend to all consumer electronics. I know a lot about software and computers, but don't assume I know what digital camera or HDTV you should buy.

9) When you have an itch to scratch in regards to a software need, people need to stop assuming that they need to buy something. Commercial software for most consumers is a waste of money. Sourceforge has tons of great tools that will do what you want, and they don't cost anything, much less $39.95.

10) Super-complex integrated software is expensive and overkill for most people. It also breaks a lot more often.

11) The best tools are usually ones that do one thing, do it simply, and do it very well. Bad tools are ones where they try to throw every feature under the sun.

12) Tech people often know what questions to ask that you didn't think of. The difference between a good deal and a bad one are details you might not have considered.

13) If you want free tech support from me, a home cooked meal is a great enticement.

GeistX said...

A hug is usually payment enough for me. :-)

My father is a better situation than my grandmother. I purposely got them an iMac because it just works and they can figure it out. My dad likes playing around with it, and he can't really hurt it. Yesterday was the first day in over a year that there were problems. I set them up right from the bat with Thunderbird and Open Office and they loved them. Then my step mother needed MS Office for her work from home, so we picked up a copy of that (with our educational discount, I'll never pay full price for that). But before we did, I made sure that Open Office would work, sadly it didn't because of the .xls macros she needed to use.

AllThingsSpring said...

The single biggest factor for the reason we don't dump MS Office for OpenOffice at the corporate level is lack of VB Macro support in Excel. We could dump 70-90% of our MS Office installs if we just had VBA macro support. There is a project in the works to get this functionality.

AllThingsSpring said...

I should say lack of VB macro support for imported Excel documents in OOo, obviously VBA is in Excel natively.

Avindair said...

I understand your pain. I gave up providing neighborhood tech support last year, and haven't looked back since.

Just bear in mind that there really is such a thing as burn-out. I got reminded again about it within the last couple of weeks. I had a job lined-up as a Senior Computer Instructor for a new VAR. I would have been teaching Red Hat, VMWARE, Solaris. I was going to be trained and ready to go.

A week before my job was to start I sat down with some old Linux manuals and started refreshing my memory.

Guess what? I couldn't do it. I just. Couldn't. Do it.

So I called and declined. I was done.

Then, within a day I had my new job. It's technical, but it's technical writing. All of the fun of being around engineering issues with none of the hassles of having to SOLVE them. And it pays as much as my old Unix days did, too.

What does this have to do with anything?

Simple: I realized when I'd reached my limits.