Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

There’s an odd satisfaction to building a new website. Most things go pretty smoothly, at least until they don’t. Then it’s a problem to be solved, and I get to channel my inner Mark Watney.

In fixing problems that run the gamut from, “I don’t like how this font looks” to “OH GOD EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!” I find myself reflecting on how I grew up at the exact right time within the digital age.

Computer technology entered my life at a point in time where Umberto Eco was writing about Macs and PCs through the lens of Catholics and Protestants. To wit:

DOS is protestant…it allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

Putting it another way, if I wanted to play video games, I had to learn how to manipulate a command line, manage 640kb of RAM – particularly avoiding upper memory crashes – and negotiate the perilous perils of corrupted sectors on 3.5 inch floppy disks. There was no google to help me. The first time I asked my father for help, he dropped a book in my lap. Cheers, pap.

This is why I tend to get annoyed as an adult when someone throws their hands in the air and says, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi.” My first question is always, “What have you done to try and fix it?” When the answer is, “I came to talk to you,” I don’t feel bad quoting the IT Crowd’s stock line, “Have you tried turning it on and off again?”

On the one hand, knowing how to fix things is not a matter of grace. The machine spirit did not shine its light upon me as a chosen acolyte of its secrets. As a child I was writing stories and computer programs in BASIC with equal gusto. Neither were particularly good, but whatever, I was a kid, back off you overly critical asshole.

Granted, there is nothing stopping the Millennials, who grew up with Google, or Baby Boomers, who grew up fending off tyrannosaur attacks with their typewriters, from picking up a book (or support forum) and learning how to do things. However, the random chance of their time of birth precluded them growing up with, as I did, one of the most rapid technological progressions of the post-industrial era. The Boomers watched the personal computer insert itself into their work spaces, often as a herald of redundancy. The Millennials grew up incapable of imagining a time before GUIs and UX engineers as anything other than tall tales akin parents lamenting their barefoot, uphill, five-mile walk to school.

So maybe, Mr. Eco gets it a little bit wrong. Perhaps there is an element of grace to being a little more competent with hardware and software than the average end user. Moore’s Law was my constant companion as my personal computer evolved from a Coleco ADAM with its three Motorola 6801-1MHz processors and 80kB of RAM to a custom built Intel I7 running at 3.4GHz and 16GB of ram. I witnessed the birth of the world wide web, learnt HTML, and used Internet Explorer for the singular purpose of downloading other browsers.

Perhaps this means I should be a little more magnanimous when it comes to helping people with their IT issues. Then again the command line lifts up those who lift themselves.

Oh, that’s right religious people. How does it taste when your smug justification for being an asshole gets turned against you?

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