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I keep trying to figure out why so many find it so difficult to communicate with tech people. My artistic friends tell me it’s because we have our own private language. If we would stop trying to impress people with our technology words and just dumb it down for normal people, then everyone would understand us and the technology wouldn’t break so often.

I don’t buy it.

My email doesn’t work

A few years ago, a friend called me with email trouble. The conversation went something like this:

“My email doesn’t work.”

“Well, what does that mean, your email doesn’t work?”

“I can’t get into it.”

“What happens when you try to get into it?”

“It doesn’t work.”

“Right – you said that. But what exactly happens?”

“I just told you; I can’t get into email and I need to check my messages. I have an important message waiting but I can’t look at it. I don’t know what to do.”

“And I want to help, but you gotta give me more. What email program do you use?”

“Email!”

“Okay. But there are lots of email programs. So, on your computer, you do something to open your email, right?”

“Yeah.”

Pause for a few seconds. “So, what do you do?”

“I click on email, duh!”

I still laugh about that conversation. And you probably think I made that up. But I didn’t. Conversations like that go on every single day. My friend figured there was only one email program in the whole world and since I do IT for a living, I should rattle off a solution in 30 seconds and make everything all better. But instead, I asked a bunch of silly questions, and now my friend is probably telling all their friends about how difficult it is to communicate with tech people.

Just fix it

I’ve had a few late-nighters with school assignments due the next morning. I’ve had lots of inaccessible emails and lots of corrupted hard drives with no backup. I had one who lost twenty thousand vacation pictures. I was able to recover most of them. That felt good.

Sometimes people get new computers and they want me to move all their stuff from the old computer to the new one. One time, a friend asked me why can’t I just copy Quicken from the old computer to the new one? I explained the difference between programs and data and that we can copy data from the old computer, but we have to install programs on the new computer. And I heard again about how hard it is to communicate with tech people and why do we make this stuff so complicated?

Broken home WiFi routers are always fun. Somebody from the Geek Squad installed it five years ago, and there’s some paperwork somewhere, but can’t I just guess the password and fix it like they do in the movies? (See Hollywood Hackers.) Why does it need a password anyway? Why do tech people make this stuff so difficult?

Sigh.

When friends call with tech support questions, they’re usually under stress, frustrated, and in a hurry. But lots of times, I’m not able to help because I can’t even get a good problem description. And this leaves both of us frustrated.

Maybe it’s a left-brain, right-brain thing. Want a great way to make an artistic person mad? Ask a quantity question. How much or how many, what’s the process, when did it happen, when did it work, when did it start to act badly, what was your input and what was the response.

When I ask questions like that, sometimes I hear the lecture about how difficult it is to communicate with tech people, and then fifteen minutes about how all this makes them feel, but not one piece of useful information to solve the problem. Believe me, I already know your problem is frustrating. But this is the wrong time to dig deep into your soul and explore your feelings.

Stereotypes

I know communication goes two ways. I’m an IT professional and I know I fit some of the stereotypes. I do like Star Trek and I do think math is cool. I also use IT industry words, like IP Address and protocol. But I don’t use those words to impress people, I use them as shorthand for paragraphs of explanations. I need a word to describe how communication between two entities works, and the word, protocol, is as good as any. Would it better if I used the word, hootenanny?

Artists have names for things. Ask a musician about words like fret, or scale, or capital letters. How does it make sense for us normal people to understand music by looking at a bunch of capital letters? What does “Follow me in C” even mean, anyway? Why is it so difficult to communicate with artistic people?

As a tech professional, I’ll try to meet you half-way. You need to move a little bit in my direction too. Help me help you, and I’ll bet we can find lots of common ground. Maybe after I solve your technology problem, I’ll let you help me get in touch with my feelings.

I think I’ll go watch a Star Trek re-run now.