No More Rude Nerds: It’s Time for Some Tech Therapy

I need to vent. Trigger Warning: This blog may not be as well-written as others on this site. I’m pretty pissed. Here goes:

support-equality-women-in-stemThree and a half years ago, I quit my job. I quit for many reasons: I’d been mysteriously ill for a few months. I was tired of driving 85 miles a day to work when gas cost almost $5/gal. I didn’t feel that I could work in good conscience for the oil industry. I thought the stress was getting to me. I left a job that paid me six figures ultimately, however, because of sexism. I worked with men who continually questioned my abilities. Not the men whose computers I fixed, but the men on the IT team. The guys whose computers I fixed were awesome. They loved that I could walk into their offices and make their malfunctioning computers work again. But the guys on my team? 75% of them didn’t believe I could do my job.

Before working at the refinery,  I managed the network at a private school. I maintained over 300 computers and a 6 server network for eight years. I also taught the teachers how to use technology in their classrooms. My network never crashed. Teachers who hated technology initially, came to love to use it with their students. For five of those years I worked for a woman who believed in me. She knew I could do my job and left me to it. I loved going to work. And then she left and a man took her place. In three years he completely dismantled everything we’d built in the tech department (and in the school at large, but that’s another story). He undermined me at every turn. He relied on parent volunteers to run the tech department, and he chose to listen to parents instead of the person (me) who knew the network. In short, he refused to believe that I, a woman, was capable of running the school computer program and he certainly did not want to pay me to do it.

Tech has a woman problem. I walked away because I was sick to death of being second guessed, undermined, and mansplained. For years I thought I couldn’t hack it, wasn’t tough enough, didn’t know my stuff. I know better now. I know that I’m capable and knowledgable, and I am certain I can fix your computer. And even though I’ve left gainful employment to go back to school in a completely unrelated field, I still loved nerd3tech and computers. I really loved helping people learn how to use their computers. And, even if they didn’t want to learn, I believed they deserved someone who could assist them without demeaning them. I decided to go into business for myself when, one afternoon, I was in the local Mac store and watched as a technician completely bullshitted an elderly woman about what was wrong with her computer. Rather than taking the time to fully explain the issue and how it could be fixed, he demeaned her, lied to her, and totally took the easy way out. He hid behind obfuscation and arrogance. He intimidated her. He did not help her. She didn’t deserve his treatment. She deserved respect, and more importantly, the help she had paid for. I resolved to work for people like her.

mobama_stemWhile I returned to school to retrain as a mental health counselor, I decided to work as much as I could as a tech therapist, someone who could help folks with their computers, smart phones, printers, networks (wifi), tablets, and even televisions. I would charge a decent price, come to their homes, and demystify technology for those who were afraid as well as for those who just didn’t give a rat’s ass as long as it worked. My motto is “no more rude nerds,” and my mission is to save the digital immigrants from the digital natives.

My mission was confirmed twice today. First, I had a meeting with clients who wanted to know why their iMac wasn’t working so well, and later I had an appointment with a client who had to buy a new computer because her old computer was, well, old, and her hard drive was failing. The first couple’s son-in-law had upgraded their 5-year-old computer to the latest OS over the thanksgiving holiday. He didn’t think. They have only 4GB of RAM. Their computer is old. It’s slow. It needs some help. It shouldn’t have been upgraded, but now that it is, it needs more RAM. We figured out how to get their pics off their iPhone and their camera’s SD card. They were happy. I enjoyed helping them. No one felt insulted or demeaned.

My next client had called her “tech guy” three times before she called me. He’s worked for her for six years, but didn’t answer her recent emergency calls. Her hard drive was failing. Her wifi needed rebooting. Her new OS was too much for her old computer. We talked about options—I could replace her hard drive. But the computer was old. Other parts would fail soon. The apps wouldn’t work well with the new OS; eventually she wouldn’t be able to use her browser or her Office suite. She decided to get a new computer. We chose the bigger hard driver over the faster hard drive. Programs will only get bigger. Pictures will continue to take up a ton of space. She’s not gaming or watching videos. A faster hard drive won’t make a big difference in her quality of life. The cost was the same either way. But there were somethings I didn’t know about her set up (like why she had two iTunes accounts or where her offsite back up resided), so she called her original IT guy. When he called back, he berated her for buying the new computer and for not getting the solid-state drive. He then mansplained at me for not seeming to fully understand iCloud. She didn’t deserve that treatment. I didn’t deserve that treatment. No one deserves that treatment.

Tech has a woman problem. I want to fix that. Let me fix your computer today. I’ll fix your psyche, tomorrow.

R is for Repair

R We are taking a break from writing about socially relevant topics to geek out a little. I was going to devote R to Racism, but every time I sat down to write about Racism, I got a stomach-ache. I know that is a weak excuse, and I do have much to say on the topic, but Repair just sort of fell into my lap as I was sitting here noticing how low my battery had gotten on my laptop. It was at 27% when I last looked. And so, I plugged it in. And about ten minutes later, I looked again. 15%! What?

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It’s charging now!

I checked to make sure the surge protector was turned on. It was. My laptop just wasn’t charging. I’d been having issues with the power cord. These damn Apple chargers have a tendency to break off right where the cord goes into the transformer, making splicing difficult. I’ve had my MacBook Air for five years, and I’ve replaced the charger once already, to the tune of $80. Last time I waited as long as possible before buying a new one. This time, I noticed the break starting and wrapped it with electrical tape, hoping to buy a few more days.

I got on Amazon and found one for $43 instead of $80 and placed my order, so excited that it was half price I didn’t notice that it wasn’t eligible for Prime shipping and wasn’t going to be here in two days! The stupid vitamin D capsules I ordered at the same time have already arrived. But I don’t need those. I need the power cord.

My tape job held up decently for a few days, though. But tonight my good luck came to an end, and I still don’t have the new cord. So, what to do? I can’t do anything without my laptop–can’t research. Can’t write. Can’t check my syllabi to see what’s due. Can’t post to my website. Well, I could, but I really don’t like doing those things from my iPhone 5. It’s just too small.

So, I googled how to repair a Mac charger, found this site on youtube, and voila! I am typing to you from my currently charging laptop. Readers, I fixed it! I am so damn proud of myself. Here are a few shots (and only one minor injury):

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Okay, maybe it’s not pretty (and I probably won’t leave it plugged in overnight or when I’m not home to supervise), but it works, and I don’t have to spend $80 at the damn Apple store.

Looking the Gift Calf in the Mouth

A few days ago, I wrote about running with my Fitbit and Nike app—how I was evaluating what benefit I derived from these tools and if they interfered with my running experience or enhanced it. I got some interesting feedback from a couple of women, both of whom basically said that noticing something doesn’t mean that something is bad and needs to be eradicated. One woman said she used to time her runs and chart them out on graphs—back in the day, you know, before we had Fitbits and Nike apps.

I read an article recently that takes to task the folks who are advocating unplugging and promoting “days without technology.” The upshot of the article was, in a nutshell, “why?” Why would we want to ditch something that makes our lives better? I just spent a good hour looking for that article so I could put a link in, but I cannot find it. I did however discover during my Google search that 1 in 3 Christian adults are giving up technology for Lent. Which makes me wonder, what makes us feel virtuous when we give up something?

Yes, yes, I know that we all need restraint and moderation and that there are things that are undeniably bad for us, but what about seemingly positive things that make us go “no, no, no—I can’t possibly have that, because it makes life too easy, makes me feel too good. If I feel too good or get too much benefit or pleasure from something, I must sacrifice it. Cut it out.”

One friend who has given up martinis for Lent says she gave them up because nothing tastes quite so lovely on Easter morning as that first martini after a 40 day martini drought. So, delayed gratification and the resulting enhanced pleasure is perhaps one reason to give something up, at least temporarily.

I suspect that is not one of the primary reasons to give something up for Lent but it’s not a tradition my brand of christians followed so I’m not much of an authority. My people eschewed most everything that smacked of fun all the time, so giving up something for Lent seemed redundant—if we could give it up for Lent, why not just cut it out of our life for good?

I’ve been thinking lately about a phenomenon that occurred quite regularly when I was a member in good standing of Campus Christian Fellowship back in my not-so-halcyon college days. Whenever a Fellowship member felt like something they were doing was coming between them and their relationship with God, they gave it up.

One of my bible study leaders my freshman year—let’s call her Tina—was a gifted French horn player. A music major on a scholarship, she was a senior when she decided that playing the French horn had become more important to her than her commitment to Christ, so she gave it up and changed her major. Ostensibly, Tina’s decision was based on the second commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Her French horn had become, in her words, an idol, a graven image, the Western Washington University undergraduate equivalent of the golden calf. Like the golden calf, the French horn had to be (metaphorically) melted down, or at least put away.

I remember being horrified by her decision as she shared her logic with us at a bible study meeting—I asked Tina if perhaps she was missing the point . . . that god had given her this amazing talent and wasn’t she just squandering his gift to her by quitting?

She replied by reminding me that god had given Abraham his son Isaac, too, and then asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Evidently god was insecure enough that he required a human sacrifice (well, yeah, eventually he sacrificed his own son, so Isaac was merely a precursor). Tina wanted to be as devoted as Abraham. Privately I suspected Abraham was a crazy old man who heard voices that were not god’s, but I was only the bible study attendee, not the leader, so what did I know? Turned out god was merely testing old Abraham and let him keep Isaac after all, but still. What sort of god requires that kind of sacrifice?

I kept seeing this notion crop up while I was in CCF—students ended relationships with one another because they became “too special.” Students gave up their apartments, their roommates, even their cars if they felt like they were becoming too attached. It all seemed a little crazy to me—why give up a good thing, I wondered. I failed to see the harm in appreciating a great apartment or a favorite car, or, especially, a deep friendship.

I imagined the great white sky-god pulling his long white hair out over all of this foolishness—all of this sacrifice. After all, hadn’t these students prayed to succeed? (Trust me, they had—everything became a prayer in CCF). Prayed to find the right apartments, prayed to find friends? And hadn’t god granted these things? Only to watch these ingrates squander his blessings?

I’m decades removed now from CCF and no longer even try to understand the logic that sect adhered to, and I do try not to have judgments about whatever it is that people want to give up for Lent because I think it is a time that can be like the new year when people can adopt new habits and try new ways of being. Lenten sacrifices may serve as a catalyst for getting healthy or for taking on positive new challenges. But even outside of religion, in the realm of regular folk, I believe we have a tendency to adhere to some spilled over puritanical beliefs that can strip us of small joys (like tracking our fitness) and larger gifts (like music and friendship and art).

We might all benefit from looking a little deeper at what we are giving up and why.

TechTherapy for Writers and Other Anxious Folk

I’ve come up with a name and a tag line for my new business supporting writers and technology:  Tech Therapy for Writers and Other Anxious Folk. I’m building a website, too, which is more challenging than I thought it would be. The good news is that by the time the website is up and running, I’ll be excellent at building websites.

That’s the beauty about learning something and practicing it—the more we do it, the better we get, and the better we get, the more whatever it is becomes second nature. And I don’t mean that only the end result becomes easier to achieve. I have discovered that the process becomes more meaningful and profound as well—so much so that the process or practice becomes the focal point of the activity, sometimes eclipsing the product.

I’ve found this to be true with writing—by making a commitment to a haiku a day, I’ve gotten really good at writing them and not just at creating a 5-7-5 syllable poem, but at the craft: choosing the words, noticing the cadence, enjoying the sort of transcendent experience that the process evokes—that little daydream along the way, and more importantly, the connection with another person.

The same thing has happened with the daily blogs. At first, I thought coming up with something to write about everyday would be the biggest challenge, but really, the hardest part is trusting myself once I sit down to write—trusting that what I have to say will somehow connect with at least one other person. Learning to still the voices that tell me no one could possibly care what I think and trusting that place in my gut that reminds me we are all connected and that if I care about something, there are others who do as well.

So more than having a series of blogs at the end of this month, I’ll have an experience of having connected and the practice of connection—of the exchange with readers, the building of a community. And having that community makes the writing easier the next time. Synergy.

So, too, hopefully, it will be with websites and building a business that supports synergy and connection. I have to think that by focusing not just on the end result but on the process, the learning, and the craft we will all come away energized and engaged. And that’s what TechTherapy should be about.

p.s. if you’re interested in techtherapy, drop me a line at pamela.s.helberg@gmail.com

My Drug and My Vice

Feedback hits my veins
Smack for my ego, mainlined
I close my eyes, sigh

I wrote this haiku over the weekend, fueled as I was then by a steady stream of positive feedback for my writing and after a really great response to the Whatcom Writes reading on Sunday. But like any good addict knows, that euphoric feeling fades fast without a continual infusion.

I managed to ride the wave for most of the week, getting by on a steady stream of Facebook likes and occasional comments, but on Friday I hit bottom.  Two months ago I sent out some queries to a handful of agents and within days one agent requested I send sample chapters of my memoir. This is it, I thought. I’m golden. I worked feverishly for a week to put some high polish on a few of the better chapters and sent them off into the ether. I tried hard to stay in the moment but really, who among us writers doesn’t live at least part of the time on that fantasy book tour? On the bestseller list in our own heads? I’m a legend, if only in my own little monkey mind.

Things came crashing back to earth for me on Friday when the agent got back to me with a kind and generous email indicating that perhaps my pages aren’t quite ready for primetime. Honestly, I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting this—I know the odds. We all do, when we sit down and dare to think we have a hope of seeing our words in print. The statistics are depressing, but still, we dream.

This crash, this bursting of my ego and the view from down here at the bottom set me to thinking about how fortunate we are now, though, as writers. We have an audience if we want one. We don’t have to toil in obscurity—relative obscurity, maybe, but not completely. We have communities that welcome our imperfect work, places where we can get our hits and fixes, venues even if they are of our own making.

I started wondering, though. What was it like as a writer to wait months and months for feedback on a piece of writing? Or to not get any at all? Imagine—writing something, spending a few hours, or weeks, months, years, on a piece and then just . . . doing what with it, exactly? Sending it to an agent or publisher and then waiting for a single letter to come by post. No instant gratification. No thumbs up or down within minutes. I suppose after a week or so trips to the mailbox might become something like obsessively checking Facebook within a few minutes of posting a particularly witty comment or status update. The worn path to the mailbox might have been a little like the iPhone-shaped silhouette on my back pocket—there because I want easy access to my inbox, the ability to quickly check my blog stats. My self-esteem rises and falls with the number of hits I get.

All of which leads me to ponder just how healthy it is, this continual trickle of sporadic feedback and my incessant need to check in on it. On the one hand, when the stream dries up a bit, we can just post something new. On the other hand, why? What’s my motivation? To continue the high or to hone my craft? I’ve been reading about B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists, operant conditioning—the key to operant conditioning is the immediate reinforcement of a response. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thoroughly conditioned by variable reinforcement. I feel a bit like a used lab rat, and the unpredictable rewards are messing with my monkey mind.  One day there might be these beautiful little gifts waiting when I press that lever, other days there’s nothing. Does the nothing keep me from pressing the lever? No it does not. The nothing makes me press the lever even more—there must be some mistake! Where’s my feedback? My next hit? I need my fix!

So. I enroll in a mindfulness class. I employ hypnotherapy and guided imagery. I run. I run and run and run. They say the endorphins produce a natural high. It doesn’t really compare, but there are 30, 40, 50 minutes a day where I’m away from the lever at least. And I’m getting healthier as a side benefit. I’m not sure I want to give up the drug, the high, the next hit long term, but I’m trying to get better at living in the moment and focusing on writing just because.

Oh hell. No I’m not. If I were, I’d not be posting this damn blog.  Hit me baby. Just one more time.