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As of the time of this writing, I've closed 21,192 trouble tickets since August 24, 2000, 99.99% of which have been from people who haven't yet removed the shrink wrap from their brains.

When I am invariably asked what I do for a living, my reply is usually "I help idiots with their websites." I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true, and damn it, it's overwhelmingly true.

You see, I'm part of the tech support staff at a web hosting company. We offer several free and various paid hosting options as well as domain registration. The free services universally attract people who are relatively new to technology and computers in general, as they are often extremely eager to admit. They are of the school of people that live in houses full of VCRs with blinking 12:00 digital clocks; that are certain their car is never going to work again because it's run out of gas and they were expecting the car to warn them before that happened; three-letter acronyms exist in these peoples' minds only as government agencies. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are the majority.

They've heard that the mystical, enigmatic internet can give them a public forum, which they use to make websites displaying little more than pictures of their dogs; they've heard that about this "new" thing called email, which can transverse the globe in a matter of minutes, which they use to send all the latest email forwards and virus warnings to their relatives across town (always, universally, with Microsoft Outlook, or Microsoft Entourage if they thought Apple's commercials for the iMac were cute; I have supported a Linux user twice); they've even heard about domain names, which they insist upon having so they can show their friends at the public library, even though they really have no concept of what a domain name is, exactly. Nevertheless, they jump right into it without a second thought.

This inevitably means that they have never learned how to type, or (in most cases) spell, punctuate, capitalize letters, or even to read the responses given to them by tech support personnel. They have no sense of netiquette and are unlikely to develop one. Those that have learned to become annoyed by spam dutifully report it, but without checking the headers first. (Mostly they think that we sent it, because it arrived at their email address, which we host.) A frighteningly large majority of them use Microsoft FrontPage to design and upload (which they refer to as "publishing") their websites with, and thus they have no concept of HTML or FTP, and they have extreme difficulty grasping why our FreeBSD hosting servers don't support their cursed FrontPage extensions. (And they won't, either; we don't have a network security department for nothing, and disk space is a finite resource, not food for bloatware.)

A fairly standard example is as follows:

Re: Your hosting contract expires in 7 days

what are u talknig abuot i renewd my domane registratin last week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Apparently, the distinction between "hosting" and "domain registration" has never been made in the customer's mind.)

Oftentimes, when I'm working, I'll sit back for a moment and ask myself why things have to be this way. It's a simple case of people not following instructions, and then getting pissy when someone attempts to help them (at their request, to boot). A lot of the complaints I've read have been from users accusing us of being "too technical." Over and over again I'm tempted to email them back and ask why they bothered to spend good money on something they have no hope of ever understanding. Nobody seems to understand that our responses to inquiries must be technical, or we wouldn't be doing our jobs and we'd be just as bad off as they are. Yet, the policy is that the users are blameless, despite the fact that they and their ineptitude are the cause of their own problems. It's not our fault you can't understand our instructions; we're speaking English, you're speaking English. What's the problem here? Is it really so difficult to do a quick Google search for whatever it was you didn't understand, in hopes of finding a definition for that acronym, a help file for FrontPage, or information on how to use software we don't support?

In the past, if you didn't understand something, you'd normally just be polite, smile and nod, and then move on. This new generation of internet users will have none of that. The "global voice" the internet provides them won't allow it; their complaints must be heard, no matter how many copies you sent of that email telling us we suck.

Tech support is a thankless, aggravating job. Honestly, you'd be better off teaching sculpture to quadriplegics than trying to get anyone but other tech support workers (or any geek, really) to understand you. The constant need to dumb yourself down to the user's level is maddening, and if your replies become terse and you further confound the user, you have to dumb yourself down even more.

I've come to the conclusion that tech support exists so that those without a clue can be made to feel better about themselves. It's clandestine psychotherapy, really, and you only get to see the patients most in need of help.

I'm thinking of moving to Bolivia and raising alpacas and guanacos. At least they don't need to know how to set up Microsoft Outlook to work with our POP3 server.


ADDENDUM: I am aware that not everyone who has cause to use tech support is a clueless neophyte, and that not all of them are being deliberately obtuse. However, in the 20,000+ issues I have dealt with during my time in tech support, I've found that the "clueless neophyte" stereotype among tech support users holds a rather large majority over all other types of people in need of technical assistance. If this wasn't the case, the above writeup wouldn't be nearly as acid-penned as it currently is. My truck is with them, not (presumably) Ms. and Mr. Everything2.

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