Holistic Technology:
Helpful Tips for Facing Your Machine

Holistic Tech Tip #1: Check The Power

If your computer–or any machine, really–refuses to turn on, check to make sure that it’s plugged in and turned on. Not once, not twice, but three times. And don’t just glance at the plug. Really check. Wiggle the plug; check the power strip. Make sure the power settings mean what you think they do (in younger and more foolish days, I managed to interpret the 1-and-0 switch on a printer as “closed” and “open”, leading me to believe that 0 was the correct setting).

The reason for all this rigmarole is that, should you fail to remedy the problem on your own and be forced to call for assistance, there are few things so embarrassing as being told that you simply failed to plug the darn thing in. You will probably then blame the machine for your embarrassment, which will just add to the burden of your misotechny, and we’re trying to avoid that here. On the other hand, should you discover that, in fact, the machine was not plugged in, you will have the satisfaction and empowerment of having fixed the problem yourself, and will be able to say “Silly me; I forgot to plug it in”. You will feel better about yourself and your machine, and you’ll have more confidence that you can solve your own technological problems. Even if the power supply isn’t the problem, at least now you can rule out one possibility.

Holistic Life Tip #1: Calling For Help Doesn’t Mean You’re Dumb

Even if you do find yourself in the above-mentioned situation of calling your technical support person only to find that you didn’t plug the machine in correctly, you should know that you shouldn’t feel stupid. The reason that you ask a more knowledgeable person to help you with a machine, nine times out of ten, is not that something needs to be done that you couldn’t do yourself. It’s that knowledge helps you pare down the options.

You, the less knowledgeable user, are faced with a situation where things don’t work, and you don’t know why. For all you know, anything could be wrong. Even if you’ve checked something, you don’t have enough confidence in your own diagnostic abilities to rule it out. Furthermore, you have no confidence that the problem isn’t with some part of the machine you aren’t even aware of. This prevents you from being at all systematic about attempting to solve the technical problem, and probably makes the psychological problem worse. The negative feelings associated with things not working have not alleviated, and are now compounded by the frustration of failure.

The expert, whom we shall call Dave, on the other hand, can look at a part of the machine and say with confidence that part of the machine is not the source of the problem. His experience enables him to tell what sorts of problems usually cause the symptoms you’re experiencing. He probably doesn’t know what’s wrong. But he is much better equipped to narrow down the options and try to solve the problem systematically. So even though the problem was just a silly power cord which you could have fixed in a second, Dave was much more likely to discover that problem than you. You’re not stupid, merely inexpert.

Holistic Technology: What’s Wrong with This Machine?

I decided to write this column after working as a hardware sales consultant for a year. Lengthy exposure to people’s concerns and complaints about their computers has led me to the belief that the biggest problem that people face in putting computers and other machines to good use is not a problem of user interface, nor a problem of intrinsic design. The problem is that people hate their computers.

They like what their machines do for them, but on a deep and abiding level, they hate the malicious chunk of metal and plastic with which they are compelled to interact in order to get the good stuff, and they fear the unpredictable ways in which it may cause them trouble. This creates what they call in personal-growth circles “bad energy”. As a result, people spend their computer time stewing in their own bad vibes, which impairs their ability to deal with problems which may arise as well as their ability to be productive with the machine in any way.

There is an ongoing effort to make computing more and more inoffensive, in an attempt to alleviate people’s technophobia. For the majority of users, however, the problem is not technophobia but misotechny — hatred of machines, not fear. No matter how non-threatening and easy to use you make a computer, misotechny will still stand between people and their machines.

Most people are smart enough to understand and learn computer skills far beyond the level of most users. The problem is that they don’t want to. They don’t feel they should have to. Psychological obstacles prevent them. What we need, therefore, is skills for overcoming people’s hatred of their machines, so that they can devote their energies to making their computers help them do whatever they want them to do.

This column exists to take a few steps in that direction. It’s aimed at the basic user trying to establish a better relationship with their tools, but I think anyone who works with computers may find something interesting from time to time. There will be a little bit of theory, a little bit of philosophy, and a little bit of technical advice. With a little luck, we can all learn to groove with our machines.