Knowing and No'ing

The delicate art of saying "no" to people when they are looking for technical help, especially at parties.

The thing is, I'm pretty smart. I'm no Einstein but I can hold my own when it comes to math, science, computers and most nerdy things. I have a physics BS from a not-too-shabby school (UC Irvine) and I've been using computers since the Apple IIe first came out. (That's like, 25 years).

It's pretty cool to know all the stuff I know. It's useful. I can Do Stuff.
The thing that gets me down, though, is that when people realize how much I know, then they want my help. Usually they want my help fixing their computer. Now, this is something I used to do 15 years ago. But it is unreasonable for a conversation to turn, as if on a dime, from something fun that we are both enjoying to what basically boils down to getting grilled on all manner of technical matters.

Generally, I like helping people, and I like explaining how things work. But not all the time, and not on demand, and certainly not in the kind of detail that people seem to want, and not at a social event.

One bitter irony is that even if I suck it up and try to answer the question, whatever information I give them will soon be forgotten, and their problem won't actually be fixed. The bottom line is that they are not getting the help that they need, nor am I getting to enjoy myself.

This is something I don't understand. Upon finding out that someone is a hairdresser, do you start asking them for advice about your hair? Or if a person is a lawyer, for advice on a case you're involved in? Or a doctor about your ailments? Why is it then so acceptable, in a social situation, to start asking a programmer about computers?

The bottom line is that it isn't acceptable. If you really want my help with something, you can hire me to fix your problem, and it will get fixed (assuming it's in scope of what I do, which is custom software, not computer repair). I'll even be happy to explain what I did, why, and the technologies behind the solution, much like a good doctor would. But what I will not do is talk about work at a social event to satisfy idle curiosity.

There are two exceptions to this: first, if you are yourself an experienced geek wanting to debate  some esoteric idea, and if I'm in the mood for the discussion, great. Second, if you are not a geek but want to debate about either the philosophy or politics of technology, then that's cool, too. But I do not want to discuss why you can't sign into your AOL account or how your Dell laptop has gotten slower over time and do you have a virus and how do you clean it off and will it require a reformat of the hard-drive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just so ya know, Doctors and Lawyers DO get requests for private diagnosis and free legal advise. You're not alone (unfortunately).