And shirking? That I can help you with.
As someone who knows how to hack computers well enough to put words on this website (Cracked's IT department have been trying to stop me for years), I'm often approached by family members seeking help with their computing problems. And although it's nice to feel useful, as John Cheese has sexily pointed out, fixing computers also kind of sucks. If the problem is straightforward, sure, I don't mind taking 30, even 40 seconds to look at a relative's computer and lovingly stroke it back to life. But man do I not want to sink two or three hours into these issues, which is so often what they take.
I suspect many of you are in the same boat, our computing expertise forcing us into the ranks of guys with pickup trucks who are asked to help with a move every weekend, or doctors obliged to investigate weird moles at every social function. With middling power comes great responsibility, and it's one we rightly want to shirk.
And shirking? That I can help you with.
This is a problem of reputation as much as anything else -- no one asks your idiot brother to help fix their computer, because everyone knows that isn't one of his skills.
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So how do you shake your reputation? By making everything worse. When asked to fix a computer, click on every "free virus scan" flashing banner ad you can find, install every toolbar you see, and visit every website Russia has ever made. Your goal here is to make the computer start to smoke. If software can't do it, you'll need to investigate hardware solutions, which in this case means power tools. Ask your relatives if anyone's pregnant or trying to get pregnant, mumble something about fumes and "evil spirits," then get to work with an angle grinder and a forge. Empty an entire can of bacon grease on the monitor, then disappear for two weeks to "get parts" and "reevaluate." They'll get the point.
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Computers are complicated tools, and there are always going to be ways to use them improperly. Yet you never need help fixing your own computer, or even need to fix it much in the first place, and you're a pen-sniffing idiot.
But if there was some way to impart your computing knowledge, you could help your friends and relatives avoid these problems themselves.
First, figure out what keeps breaking for them. Is it their wireless network? Teach them a bit about how wireless networks work. Show them how to reboot everything and the order in which to do it, and tell them what all the flashing lights mean. Or is their problem malware and dodgy toolbars? After scrubbing that shit off their computers, go on a field trip with them. Visit some shady Tamogatchi-snuff-streaming websites and point out all the banner ads and scams and other virus-laden things they should never ever click on.
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And here's the important bit: Make them listen. They're not going to want to, so use basic grappling techniques to make them. Explain clearly that this is a necessary part of computer ownership and to quit struggling. It's like knowing how to change a flat tire. Even if you hope you don't need to do it, it's kind of reckless driving without knowing how.
You don't need to know how some devices work. Like microwaves -- they use pretty small waves? You just press the "Popcorn" button and wait.
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But that's simply not the case with computers. People wearing turtlenecks and frameless eyeglasses have been improving the usability of computers for the past couple decades, and have only made marginal progress: they're still incredibly complicated machines with incredibly complicated interfaces. Any time they've tried to make a computer too much like an appliance (re: Microsoft Bob, or even Windows 8), this has necessarily limited the things those machines are capable of doing or hid important features, angrifying the users who need them. The fundamental problem here is we're trying to sell the same box to both Grandma and a Level 49 HyperNerd, and that's kind of insane.
So if the turtlenecked have failed, what can we do? Installing a modern browser, virus scanner, and malware screener helps make a computer a little more appliance-like. You could even follow the route of corporate IT departments and remove programs your relatives should never use, strip the administrator privileges from their account, or install website blockers. Though this is just as likely to get you more phone calls for help when they keep banging their heads on your efforts to keep them safe.
Replacing their computer with an iPad or something is another option. Or if their needs are particularly minimal, give them a doctored-up digital picture frame playing a loop of grandchildren, cat memes, and, just so they don't get confused, error messages.
And if we fail in our efforts to turn the computer into an appliance and our relatives refuse to allow us to lay hands to their face to impart our computing wisdom, what then? The answer is surprisingly simple: We change their world into one which no longer needs computers.
Ask your relatives for complete privacy, shut the door to their office / computer nook, turn on their computer, and wait 28 minutes for it to complete booting. Open up a new text file, and then, using basic software engineering techniques, design a new type of computer which is self-aware enough to be capable of maintaining itself. Next, using a simple email program or web service, contact various venture capital firms to secure funding, and begin production of your new device, ushering in a new era of human existence in which computers are effectively invisible to our eyes, operating forever in the background without our input. Be careful to avoid creating a nightmarish futuristic hellscape. Maybe check a couple ethics pages on Wikipedia first. That done, unplug your relative's computer, throw it in the trash, and emerge to tell them the good news.
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But what to do if you can't even manage something that simple?
Our computers are just lousy with evidence of how wretched we are. This can include our sticky browser histories, our terrible music libraries, or any one of the half-finished novels littering our hard drives, filled with characters who keep shrugging and exclaiming at each other.
So if all else fails, you can always harvest as much of this embarrassing information as possible. Then the next time this relative needs help from you, you ask them what it's worth to them.
Christopher Meder/Hemera/Getty Images
Again, this isn't going to make you popular at Thanksgiving, so maybe save this one for a year you really don't want to do any traveling. Or at least try to usher in a new terrifying epoch first.
To the uninitiated, fixing computers must look pretty mysterious. Cryptic error messages, strange and exciting progress bars, the mysterious eldritch procedure known as "Rebooting the Router."
Roman Sigaev/iStock/Getty Images
Although this might seem easy to you or me, knowing how and when to do these things takes experience. And seeing as applying this experience can take hours of effort, it's also worth something. Professional computer repair operations charge something in the neighborhood of $50 to $100 per hour for their "labor," which is the correct term for it, even if it involves sitting quietly in a padded chair. So when a relative asks you for help fixing a computer, that's potentially a couple hundred bucks of work they're asking for.
Now obviously, we do nice things for our relatives all the time without considering payment. Handing your uncle an invoice for a chore you've just done is commonly called "A Dickily Dickish Dick Move." But damned if it doesn't get a certain message across, and put to a stop any more friendly requests for computer assistance. So if you're really fed up with them, and can stand the stern looks around the Thanksgiving table you're going to get, yeah, go ahead and put a lien on Grandma's house.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has rebooted things several times. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
For more from Bucholz, check out So You're Being Confronted By An Army Of Wizards and 4 Fake Buildings You Didn't Know Hide Stuff From You.
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