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Why Tech Support is like Buddhism

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25 comments on “Why Tech Support is like Buddhism”

  1. I do advanced tech support for a major cell phone provider. Because of this, about 25% of my calls are from people in their 80’s or 90’s who have just gotten a new smartphone. They are very intimidated by the technology, and I will spend an hour with them just teaching them how to do basic stuff like how to turn the phone off and on. They appreciate the fact that I can explain it to them without making them feel like the village idiot. Exactly what you are talking about.

  2. I’ve learned a lot working for Leo during the past 4 1/2 years. I’ve learned a few technical things, but being well versed in basic Windows troubleshooting, the most important things I learned weren’t technical. I observe the way he goes the extra yards necessary to make it easier for tech challenged people to understand what he’s trying to impart.

    A couple of specific things I’ve learned from Leo is when I explain how to do something I now use the technical word followed by a definition. Using the technical word teaches the other person what that word is, and the definition makes it clear to the non-tech person without being condescending. I also learned from Leo that it helps to use a few extra words to make sure the person I’m talking to doesn’t get confused. For example, instead of using a pronoun to refer back to something previously mentioned, I repeat the item name. This often reduces confusion. It might violate some language guidelines of being redundant, but I’ve learned that redundancy is preferable to confusion. I sometimes tone down my grammar (cringe) to echo common usage rather than use the more grammatically form if I feel it will make something easier to understand.

    Being an ESL teacher, it’s also helped me with my teaching. Of course, when teaching a foreign language, the translation analogy doesn’t apply. It’s not an analogy, it’s literally translating :-)

    • “…I’ve learned that redundancy is preferable to confusion.”

      Mark Twain agreed. In his essay, “The Awful German Language”, he observes:

      “The Germans do not seem to be afraid to repeat a word when it is the right one. They repeat it several times, if they choose. That is wise…Repetition may be bad, but surely inexactness is worse.”

  3. If you find meditating makes you feel better it is probably because you are not getting enough sleep. There is no solid scientific evidence to show that meditating has any therapeutic benefit.

    • Actually of late there is a ton of research of late that shows it does. However I ignore all that. Completely empirically, completely personal, and for whatever reason, I simply feel more productive when I do it.

    • And what minimal connection is there between your comment and the topic (making the knowledge of support accessible in the language the supported person knows)?

      or was this an arrempr to denegrate somone because they do something you don’t understand.

      All meditation is, is a clearing of the mind. A lot of people do it without using the term.

    • “There is no solid scientific evidence to show that meditating has any therapeutic benefit.”
      Sometimes one man’s “solid scientific evidence” is another man’s horse manure.
      One cannot quantify joy, nor peace, nor happiness, yet they exist.

      Life is more than evidence…there are many aspects of it that simply cannot be quantified or qualified, and is most often at its best when experienced simply and humbly. And if you find that certain something that lets you live your life in a better way, cherish it.

  4. I do the same thing for a few neighbors, I help them and try to translate, for the most part as long as I am around, they do not want to learn what is going on, just am I available to resolve the problem and can I?

    On one of my computers, I sometimes get a parity check 2 error on startup, restarting solves the problem I have replaced the hard drive and the memory, only thing I can think of is the boot prom having an error. I just don’t understand why it is not a hard error.

  5. Beautifully expressed, Leo. I’ve been a teacher of many things for most of my 60-odd years, and a teacher of teachers, and I resonate with everything you said. It’s the reason I always gravitate back to Ask Leo! even though I read other tech blogs and magazines.

  6. In my freelance writing work, I am often called on to explain technical concepts to non-technical people. As it happens, I am somewhat of a technophobe (I prefer the “late adopter” label). One editor always hires me to write the computer oriented articles. Her reasoning is that if I can understand it, I can explain it to people with even fewer tech skills than I possess. I’ve written how to articles about when to upgrade your hardware and software, QR codes, YouTube videos, putting on webinars, and more. Most of these are things I’ve not yet done myself, but when I need to, I can refer to my articles for instruction (or consult Ask Leo).

  7. That’s what I appreciate about you, Leo — the simplicity.

    I too express complex ideas in simple, sometimes light-hearted, language. Totally different subject, though. I translate psychological concepts into a format that can easily be understood by those who have lived through horrific childhood abuse. They relate and feel “normal” and are relieved to be able to understand what is going on. You aren’t going to get through to somebody who is freaking out if you use six syllable words.

    I acquired this skill years ago when I worked as a technical writer for an applied chemistry company.

  8. My wife and I both are either currently or previously provided technical support. I have always referred to the job as “TechnoTherapist. The reason is that by the time the client has reached the point of contacting technical support they are usually quite frustrated. The first task for tech support is to let them vent their frustration until they are at the point where they are ready to listen and then you can move into the problem determination phase. Tech support people who don’t understand this part of the job often leave the customer even more frustrated and don’t get the problem solved.

  9. Back in the sixties, when I taught programming at two different computer schools, I spent many hours looking for ways to express common IT elements in terms that my students would understand from their daily lives. Memory addresses were likened to street addresses, apartment numbers or hotel room numbers. I would form the class into a “human computer,” assigning different functions to each student (input, output, storage, accumulator, logic (decision maker), control (and branch), etc., and give them programs to “run.” Years later, when I would meet any of my formal students on the street or at their places of work, they would invariably and effusively express their gratitude for what they had learned.

  10. Hi Leo,
    As an old geek (86) who has been rescuing fellow ancient computer mariners whose “ships” ran on the rocks, I agree with your commentator who found that no matter how intelligent folks are, they may not be wired to deal with the weirdness of a machine which understands only 0 and 1.
    But, on a different level, I think computer problems teach religion. They have taught me lessons in patience and humility that were never absorbed in Church.
    Thanks for your wonderful and informative newsletters and videos.

  11. Wonderful explanation as always. The only sad part is how unique you are, Maybe you’re just part of a small class. I am heartened to read the comments by people who apparently try as hard as you do (and myself I hope). Mark Jacobs was so accurate in discussing pronoun confusion. I often go back over something I’ve written changing all the “they”‘s “it”‘s and “he”‘s to their corresponding nouns. Why is it that the high level jobs of explaining tech stuff invariably goes to those “others”? Linux is the perfect example of a tech field that could be so much more popular and accessible if they would just get rid of that geeky support that they are in love with. My contribution is this: USE NARRATIVE WRITING. Instead of the cancer of How To Do It’iveness, which assumes you already know all the parts but only need navigational instructions, we need to pretend we are sitting next to someone who is asking questions. What is this thing, why is it here, what does it do, do I need to use it, is it connected to XXX which I know about etc. When you explain things to a real human being, you never use that constricted, telegraphic form of instruction that confuses because the most important questions are not answered. And you, Leo, never make that mistake.

    • The Linux Geek Speak problem relates to what Leo wrote about in his article, Free is not Free. People who give quality support want to make money for it. The majority of computer users use Windows, so most people offering “free” support are going to stick with Windows which they expect will draw the most views to generate the most ad income. Of course, there are some excellent MacOS support sites. They can also be successful because there are also fewer support sites to compete with. Maybe someone with a combination of tech and writing skills will realize there’s not much competition for someone who can translate Linux concepts into a language understood by the vast majority of people, and start a Linux support site, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  12. I see most of your reply comments are from current Geeks who have realized exactly the problem you describe and have modified there teaching or explaining of tech speak so that “us” common none geek can hopefully grasp a little understanding. I joined the computer world only about 3 years ago when I was in my late sixties. I think I am a relatively smart person and the computer was an awesome tool to open the world. I tried to learn all I could at a rudementary level never having any experience in this field. I went to school earning a degree with a triple major in Econ, Polysci, and Business Admin., and then went on to lawschool. This all prior to computers being anywhere near mainstream. I bought a smartphone a year after a computer. I was so ignorant I had to go back to the computer store to have the geek at the counter show me where to turn on my laptop. No one helped me learn. I went to ROP classes and the teachers were very unhelpful. They would try and show how to use wordperfect or business stuff and not even explain the basics of the computer. If we goofed up something in our lessen we would raise our hand and they would come over – reach over our shoulder touch a couple keys (not explaining what keys or how they worked) and walk away. It was so frustrating I wanted to strangle them. How would this help us at home or away from the class. I went to 3 different “Computers for beginners” classes and all of them were very similar. I finally found a “Computers for Dummies” library book that went step by step. “Push this button and this happens, This key does this – It taught Windows Vista and my computer was Windows 7 but it was a much better help than any or all 3 of the Geek computer teachers I encountered in computer school. The computer I bought came with instructions but of course they were in the computer. Great help. You have to know how to use a computer to get to the instructions for how to use the computer. My smart phone was just as instructional. AT&T was just as helpful. They took my money and handed me the phone. They set it up for me, handed it to me and here I have a phone (Samsung Note 1) 50 time smarter the the computer they used to go to the moon. Not one single word of instruction, except again inside the phone. All Geek related TV adds and related electronics is also just a vague. No one explains what anything does, they assume the consumer knows or he wouldn’t be buying it. Home depot has classed on how to paint, lay tile, pour cement and yet Best Buy or Fry’s or Office depot offers even basic instructions of Technology. We want to learn and take part in the technology revolution, but we need to learn 1&1= 2 and 2+3= 5 before we can take on advanced calculus. I could go on for days as this is a pet peeve but I believe many out there know exactly what I am talking about.

  13. From the first time I read an article at AskLeo, it struck me how clear your way of explaining is. Very different from myself. While I use clear wording people don’t understand what I am saying. When they try to repeat me, they make it different.
    I know one other person in a forum who explains the things very well.
    You know Leo, I just wanted to switch on my computer. And it did not work. I thought about you and I laughed.

  14. Amen! Amen ! to all the above. I provided customer support in both the parts and service area for a major truck OEM. For the most part when these customers come to us for help, they know what they needed and what their problems were , but did not know how to fix it with the information they had. It was part of my job to get them that information or give the direction on what needed to be done. These customers and I were on the same level and spoke the same language, so for the most part most issues were resolved rather quickly. On the other hand as was previously stated the cell phones carriers and computer tech stores are there to sell you something (as with software companies)

    When you deal with the above people for the most parts they are younger, tech savvy and it is easier for them to just do it for you as this can be done in minutes versus hours to teach you. These peoples are not trained in customer support, they are trained to make the next sale ASAP because they are for most commissioned sales people.

    You can get tech support for most software from the company that sells it to you if you want to get on the phone and talk to someone in a different country than the united States, and this is really frustrating as this can take hours and some of that phone support is only good for a limited period of time. In my experience most of this support is less than good ( and I’m) being kind.

    I had a major problem using some software I just upgraded to and emailed the supplier and the response that came came back in just a few hours. The response was,here are links to our website and if you follow the instructions everything will work. I already had this info as it was part of the help menu in the program. I could not get the program to work as I did not understand the instructions and I asked for help from the supplier.

    Did not mean to build a clock to get to my point, My point is Leo help me via email and was able to explain to me how to use the program. I have subscribed to Leo’s news letter since 12/17/2009 I have bought most of his books. Leo has provided me with more information about computers that I could understand than I could have gotten anywhere else.

    Anyways Leo, thank you.


  15. Has your friend accepted your challenge? Has he published anything on meditation yet? I’d be interested to read it.

  16. I’m a physician who practices in a hospital, and see the parallels to “geek-speak” as delivered to patients. The outcomes are even worse. In medicine Latin is used to obfuscate ignorance, elevate the ego of the physician, and leaves the normal human feeling bamboozled or humiliated. In fact, pictures, and simple analogies usually work wonders. Medicine is a vast ocean, but not a very deep one. Everyone can understand their own bay or region. Wikipedia has proven to be an excellent resource for those that want a deeper dive.
    Keep up the great work of translating, Leo!


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