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This 1996 Conceptual Essay on IT Support Gives Us the Warm Fuzzies

This 1996 Conceptual Essay on IT Support Gives Us the Warm Fuzzies

Oftentimes, a technology issue has less to do with the technology itself and more with the one using it. User error is simply one of the biggest reasons why technology support is asked for, and it’s such a common occurrence that it leads to many users becoming the butt of jokes among IT workers. People who provide IT support must practice empathy and understanding rather than foster this antagonistic mindset amongst teams.

Understanding User Error

First, we need to frame the context for this concept. In 1996, researcher, publisher, and doctoral graduate Philip Agre used his newsletter, The Network Observer, to explore concepts in technology and artificial intelligence. If you would like to read his work, you can do so in UCLA’s archives

Agre’s article, “How to help someone use a computer,” details specific actions and guidelines that any support professional must remember when guiding someone through using a computer. Considering how prevalent technology is these days, it’s a must-read for anyone—not just tech professionals.

This neat time capsule shows just how little has changed over the course of 30 years, even though the world is so drastically different than it was before. Here are some of the most important bits of information we can pull from the article:

“Nobody is born knowing this stuff.”

“You've forgotten what it's like to be a beginner.”

“A computer is a means to an end. The person you're helping probably cares mostly about the end. This is reasonable.”

“They might be afraid that you're going to blame them for the problem.”

Under the “rules” section, Agre recommends that support professionals use a gentle approach and take time to understand the user.

Rules Are for Breaking… and Following

Ultimately, certain aspects of Agre’s rules have aged quite well, while others have not—particularly given the changing landscape of technology support and the prevalence of managed services. We tend to operate in the background to help users avoid issues in the first place while still being available if something does surface.

This directly contradicts one of Agre’s virtues: “Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own. So it's okay if they take notes.”

Aside from this and some other exceptions, we largely agree with Agre and applaud his documented approach to IT support: listen, educate, and resolve. This can also help to build a community, in Agre’s words:

“Knowledge lives in communities, not individuals. A computer user who's part of a community of computer users will have an easier time than one who isn't.”

If you’re looking for a positive experience with your IT support, look no further! We can work with you, and you can experience what it is like to be respected by your technology support team. Call us at (855) 795-2939 to learn more today.

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