Thursday, March 5, 2009

I just drove the bus

This is my eighth year of teaching, and you know what that means? It means that it's been quite some time since somebody's asked me how to fix their computer, and it's not very likely that I'll be asked that anytime soon. After all, why would one assume that an English teacher knows anything about computers? Shoot, the title itself implies that I'm some sort of luddite, completely unfamiliar with new technologies. So, why even bring this up then?

Because once upon a time, people would ask me all sorts of computer questions, and even when I told them that I really wasn't very technical when it came to computers, they'd continue to ask me questions. Mainly, this is due to the fact that my past three jobs involved computers in some shape or form. The first one was a cybercafe called Internet Alfredo (which is totally nonexistent now). Dang, but that was a surreal job now that I look back on it. I barely got paid anything, but then again, I basically just played video games all day and sometimes served coffee. Also, it helped to set me up for my next job.

At Internet Alfredo, I used the computers and I sometimes would have to troubleshoot various problems. For the most part though, I was just guessing. Some of the customers expected me to be some kind of computer whiz, not realizing that if I knew as much as they thought I did, I sure as hell wouldn't be doing that stupid job. I remember some of them reading off all the numbers and code on the error messages to me, thinking that I had any idea what it meant. Needless to say, many of them were not satisfied with me not knowing all the answers, and some of them would get downright hostile if I dared to imply that the problem was that they messed something up.

Anyway, so that was about as technical as it got. I then went to work for LookSmart, where I surfed the web all day and wrote little two-sentence descriptions of various websites after sorting and organizing them. I can proudly boast that for about a year, the comic book section on LookSmart was easily the most comprehensive and well-organized listing of comic book related sites on the web. It all went to crap after I quit though. (Would you believe some moron put a Wolverine site under "Golden Age Comics"? Idiot!) What did I do when my computer wasn't working? I called the tech support guys.

My next job, and the one that ultimately would lay me off (and they're actually still around), was at I did a bit more technical stuff there, as I would use programs like Photoshop and Flash to create some content. Still, if a computer broke down, I'd just call the tech support people.

So, all that time, I'd have people always asking me what was going on with their computers. One lady, who's my sister's former mother-in-law, gave me some lengthy description as to what was happening with her computer and asked me what was going on. I gave her as good of an answer as I could, explaining that it could be any number of things, but that I really didn't know much about fixing computers. She looked at me like I was being an asshole.

Kirsti's now-departed uncle would keep asking me to teach him about computers. I'd try to explain to him that I really wasn't the right person for that. (And even if I was, I still wouldn't want to teach him anything!) He also once told me that a friend of his reminded him of me, as we were both "into" computers. Turns out this guy was some kind of scientist who worked with electron microscopes (or something equally remote from anything that I know even squat about).

Speaking of Kirsti's relatives, her cousin once referred to me as a "computer programmer". I wouldn't even know how to START programming a computer! In a way, I know where all this came from, but much of it was a symptom of the fact that people basically just don't listen. It wasn't so bad when they'd make that mistake once, but I had explained myself several times, and yet they'd still persist. After all, it wasn't like I went around telling people that I was some kind of computer expert. When I described what I did, I endeavored to make it sound as non-technical as possible. But then, those were the early days of the web. All they had to hear was "Internet" and they figured I could build computers.

For the first couple of years after leaving the dot com world, I'd still get it a bit. Some of my fellow teachers would ask me technical questions about their printers or whatever. I also got "volunteered" to do the department website. (Which I did, but I'm not even sure if it's up there anymore.) The metaphor that I always had to employ was, "Look, I just know how to drive the bus. I don't know how to fix it." That seemed to work with the smarter ones, as they'd stop bugging me about that.

It's funny, because my dot com life didn't completely end when I started teaching. I still did a freelance job on a website for a "hotel alternative" where I once worked (in accounting, of all things). Eventually, I stopped hearing from them, and then when I checked out their website, I saw that they had a newer and better design. No hard feelings though - I probably made a couple of grand off of them when everything was said and done, and I barely knew what the hell I was doing. Back then, people were impressed with pretty much anything if you could do it and they couldn't.

Look at what the Web Archive has brought out of the past: The website for Executive Suites that I did.

1 comment:

Ingrid said...

Well, to me you were my first contact to the computer/internet and I thought and still think that you know everything about computers.
Don't disillusion me.