Durham: Don't Look Down Upon the Technologically Clueless

My mom, Janice Durham, reads every word I write and listens to every ExtremeTech podcast.

She does it more out of support for her son than any other reason, and she's anything but a technology geek.

Heck, until recently, she thought Bluetooth meant a wireless earpiece for your phone, and nothing else.

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My grandmother, Liz Bianchi, meanwhile, listens to a dozen or so books a week on audiocassette.

She knows that one button on her machine, made especially for the blind, means "play" and another means "stop."

I've tried to explain the functionality of the other buttons to her, but she has no interest. She doesn't want to know. And yet she enjoys book after book.

I have never once looked down upon Mom, Gram, or virtually anyone who doesn't understand technology, even though I, personally, am a big nerd who needs to know every detail about how every bit crosses every bus or wire in every gadget that I own.

People like me are a select few; the rest of the world's citizens just use their stuff the way they like to, and that's that.

I've had plenty of opportunity to knock or mock technophobic people. I spent years as a repair guy for a computer firm, and I troubleshot everything from unplugged printers (that maliciously caused the printers not to work) to tricky "off" switches on power supplies (that caused whole computers to be presumed "dead" when the front power button didn't do what it was supposed to).

I helped people who were brave enough to install new graphics cards but didn't quite get why they didn't work (they didn't even know where that floppy disk labeled "Drivers" was; they just tossed it aside after they opened the box around their ATI Mach 32 cards).

Sure, the techs and I had fun sharing stories and had a few laughs, but I've never really understood nerd-superiority: the feeling that knowing how something works somehow makes one better than someone who just uses an item and doesn't really care it functions.

I'm not the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, despite the physical resemblance.

When people ask for my help, they don't always want me to explain in detail how something functions. They just want me to make it go.

I long ago gave up on long-winded explanations as to why, say, a wireless laptop wouldn't work with a home router; I just look up the WPA pass code, punch it in, and say, "There you go!"

Many of my more nerdish friends get infuriated when people they know don't get the full functionality out of their gadgets.

"He had a PSP, for heaven's sake, and he didn't know about Game Sharing! Sheesh!"

I hear stuff like that all the time.

But I bet that not-so-knowledgeable PSP guy did know where to put the UMD disc and play his games, by himself, and enjoy them. Maybe that's all he wanted to do. And if that's the case, I see nothing wrong with it.

I'm not the guy who tells people that they're not getting the most out of their Zunes if they don't understand how to share music with other Zune owners.

I don't roll my eyes when someone doesn't understand why an old computer can't run "Call of Juarez" or "Command & Conquer 3."

People in other technical professions don't get snotty when you don't know the ins and outs of their fields of knowledge.

Doctors don't roll their eyes and heave heavy sighs when you say that you don't know what a subdermal hematoma is. Meteorologists don't laugh at you when you don't know the difference between relative humidity and dew point.

Why should technical professionals or hobbyists get all superior when someone doesn't know the difference between USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 and why an external hard drive won't work well with a 7-year-old notebook?

In fact, the only time I get annoyed by someone's lack of technical knowledge is when they're in a position in which they should know what they're talking about, and they don't.

For example, I bought a MIDI keyboard at a certain well-known electronics store, often found in strip malls, with the initials R.S., which I won't name.

I asked the sales guy for MIDI cables, and he said, "Mini cables? For what?"

"No, MIDI cables, so I can plug this into my computer."

He got snotty and insisted that there was no way to do that. Get this: He looked down upon me for what he thought was my lack of knowledge.

Now that pissed me off; not because he was rude, but because he didn't have technical knowledge about the very product he was selling to me.

If you're not selling MIDI equipment, though, I don't expect you to know that you can plug a keyboard into a computer, and if you didn't know that, I wouldn't look down upon you.

In the techno-geek world, I'm a hippie: I live and let live, dude.

If someone doesn't know — or want to know — I don't mock. I just let it go.

I'm sure that person knows plenty about some field of expertise that your average computer geek might not.