Thursday, February 16, 2012

Am I a Tech Snob?


The Problem

I think that I may be a tech snob.  I get very frustrated with intelligent people not being able to use common technology tools.  Today I had to burn files to a CD because the individual we were trying to send them to could not figure out how to use YouSendIT.  Let me break it down for you.  We upload a file.  A link is created and emailed to the specified recipient (and back to you.)  They receive said email and click the DOWNLOAD button in the email.  It takes them to a website where they are given instructions.  They essentially read “Click Here” to download your file.  Couldn’t do it.  Frustrating.

Why is it that when a problem is encountered and I propose a technology solution it is balked at? Frowned upon? Groans are cast in my general direction as if I came across a French castle in my quest for the Holy Grail?  


On the other hand I love it when I see my nine year old daughter solve problems on her own with a bit a tech.  A friend of hers moved to Europe (we are in North America) and they wanted to stay in touch but not just through emails and online chat sessions.  They wanted to speak with each other.  My daughter took her second generation iPod Touch and began calling her friend via the Skype App.  But wait; there is no microphone on the 2nd gen iPod Touch.  She plugged in a microphone/headset combo.  But yet when the email icon moved on one of my coworkers Blackberry he thought email was down!

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Another problem that was presented to me was the issue of using Microsoft Outlook.  Two members of the administration staff (people that use Outlook all day, every day) had access to a member of managements email account and would send mail on behalf of said person.  When sent, the email was placed in their sent box.  No good.  They wanted it to go to the third persons sent box.  Understood.  I provided two solutions.  One was to manually move the file.  There was a yet another groan.  Then I said “Make a rule to move it.”  I received blank stares and then laughing ensued.  In a mocking tone of voice they said, “Ok Brian, it’s a (with air quotes) RULE.” I answered their mocking laughter with a demonstration on how to use rules in Microsoft Outlook.  The laughing was replaced with “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.”

Maybe I am over reacting.  I’ll admit that.  But when I am approached with a problem and my solution involves a bit of tech (like using Dropbox, box.net, SugarSYnc, etc. instead of copying the files to three different machines and then copying them again when the files are revised, then wondering if you copied it correctly and then wondering if you copied over the real file or not and then opening all three machines files simultaneously and visually comparing them – my head hurts) that can solve a common problem please do not laugh at me.  Please treat me with respect. Please use free software tools like Autodesk Design Review.

Why?  Why do these people hate me so much?  Why?

The Reason

Like Brian I too have long since suffered similar ills. It seemed that whenever anything that required electricity did not function correctly, I was the person who was called. When a problem required some degree of creativity or originality I was the person who was looked to. And still, more often than not, any suggestion, direction, or implication that these people could fix their own problem was met with scorn. Given enough time and repeats of similar incidents I began to wonder if the problem was me. Was I a snob or, as one friend likes to say, and “elitist”?

I couldn’t understand how that could possibly be the case. How can someone who believes YOU can do anything they can do be a snob? How could anyone who encourages another person to try and solve their own problems to obviate the need to call for outside help be an elitist? I could not understand how I was wrong for thinking these people must surely be smarter than they were acting when it came to technology. If I could do it, surely anyone could.

What I’ve come to realize is that this issue goes far beyond mere "snobbery" and even beyond the classifications of "early / late adopters" and the battle between “nerd and jocks.” It has truly become a gulf between the "analog masses" the "digital natives" and the "naturalized web settlers." And instead of the gulf narrowing as technology becomes more readily available, it seems to be widening!

Our kids, us, and them

Brian’s daughter is a digital native, born and living in a world where 1's and 0's along with near-ubiquitous internet access make almost any solution a matter of discovery rather than invention. She wants to make a call on an internet-connected device? Surely there is a program (app) that will do that. Just do some thought and search. I look at these young people and marvel at the existence they have in comparison to my own, at their age. In fact, I must admit to some degree of jealousy or sense that I was born just a tad too early.

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We (mid-30's mentality) are the generation immediately following the founding of the internet as we know it. We were born into an analog world at the tail end, watched the birth of the digital world, grabbed our tech visas and immigrated. We are current-early adopters but still have an "invention" mentality because that is how out internet fathers did it. If we want to make calls on an internet-connected device we might think "wow that would be nice, but I haven't heard of a way and I know I can't 'invent' a way to do it. Oh well." (Or maybe you can invent it and you create the next Skype!) The invention mentality is a double edged sword that can hinder and give flight to the greatest of our technically and creatively inclined.

In some ways we may limit ourselves for the belief that we still live in a world where we must create our own fun. But, in some ways and on some occasions, we are right. We must create, we must invent, to move forward and have the world we want. In that sense I feel that we are well served by the invention mentality. If something doesn’t work, we must make it work. We explore. We tinker. We build. The internet is our inheritance, but it may not be our legacy unless we cease to invent. In that way I am glad to have been born when I was because while I watch digital natives seamlessly use tech, too often, they have no curiosity of its workings. Worse yet, they have no desire to build new tech.

Our literal fathers and grandfathers were born in an analog world and they represent a wide generation. To them the internet is still a "fad" to be mistrusted. Privacy is paramount and strangers with candy are behind every website. When problems arise they feel baffled as if this strange form of magic that previously made this technology work has suddenly gone rogue. Surely this is a matter beyond their measure. There is no need to explore, to invent in this “digital” area of the world since it is all ephemeral. No time is money and they must call for help. But really, how hard or serious can it be to fix something that hides in a little beige box or appears on the screen? That isn’t real work. That isn’t how we used to do it!

To this analog generation the internet and this digital world hold great possibility, but also great peril. And "old business" tells us that "risk, equal to or greater than the norm, is not a good bet." Smart people don’t do that. And who, in their opinion, are the smart people? They are the CEO's and VP's of architecture, design, and civil firms. They are the people who cry wolf when a user interface is updated. They are the people who spend weeks making the latest release of AutoCAD look and work like the previous release. They are the grey haired and weak hearted guardians and practitioners of "the way it's always been" who are too far along in their careers to change. Even those who "want" to change and reap digital benefits really, in truth, only "want to want" to change. The closest they will ever come is to hire someone who they think will effect change.

It's all very sad really.

This article was a collaboration between Brian Benton of CAD-a-Blog.com (the Problem) and Curt Moreno of kungfudrafter.com (the Reason).  Thank you Curt for assisting in this article and for using tech solutions like Google Docs to work together in the cloud.  I am so glad that you didn’t fax me your work or send a PDF!  It was born out of a mutual frustration and a rant on Google+. Follow Curt here and Brian here on G+.


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