brokenness and compassion

I’m a bit of a scab-picker as far as technology goes. I’m more interested in how stuff breaks than how it works when it all goes well. This is why I do more troubleshooting than tech creation. I’m good at it and I enjoy the problem-solving angles of it. As a technology instructor in a rural location, I sometimes feel like I’m dealing more with broken stuff than stuff that works. Given this, having an approach to brokenness that isn’t just “Oh, that’s not supposed to happen…” is key to helping people feel comfortable with technology. Leigh Anne Vrabel who runs the Library Alchemy blog has a concise post that summarizes a way to move forward inhabiting this sort of world.

Technology has to be supported by brotherhood, sisterhood, understanding and compassion.

And if I can paraphrase, I’d have to say “We’re all in this together and we haven’t all learned until everyone is leaning.” I’ve definitely been guilty of throwing up my hands trying to teach someone something because they had so much emotion wrapped up in why the computer “didn’t like them” that they couldn’t follow steps to do the actions they theoretically wanted to do.

Just like people who choose to live in the frozen north up here do so “for a reason” I think that most people who don’t know how to use a computer in 2009 — similar to people who don’t drive, who don’t have a telephone or who don’t have electricity — don’t know for a reason. For some people that’s an active reason, they’re not interested, they don’t see a need for it, they’re already busy enough, but for some people it’s a passive reason, they’re resistant to change, they’re easily frustrated, they have a disability that makes technology difficult and no one to help them with adaptive tech, they’re poor. As a technology instructor, part of my job is making technology a genuine option for people who have a need for it, not to sell it to people who don’t want to buy it. At the same time I explain what technology actually IS, apart from the television commercials and relentless boosterism about the promise of the Internet. That’s my interpretation of “technology with heart” [ttw]

7 thoughts on “brokenness and compassion

  1. This hurts: “In essence, you ARE discriminating. Discriminating against a growing, younger, web-savvy customer base. Customers who *almost* have all the tools in place to simply ignore you and your grad-degreed, professional information-retrieval services. Especially if they are treated like second class customers when they ask a question using their preferred, and handy, means of communication.”

    As someone who has just invested $20K+ and 3 and a half years of my life for an MLS, I sure don’t want to see this profession become obsolete.

  2. I agree with everything you say. I am a second grade teacher. I am learning to love and embrace technology in my classroom. Unfortunately, there are many teachers who are set in their ways and resistant of change. There is nothing we can do to force them. We need to provide opportunities for them.

    Your dedication is applauded. Keep it up!


  3. A thought provoking post.

    As someone who has worked deeply with web technology for the last decade, I am often astounded that the information systems of the world work as well as they do. There are so many ways for them to go wrong. I suggest it is a law of information systems that things must break. At some point, every system will break and need to be repaired by human hands. Compassion and assistance for users of the information systems has to be factored in as a daily need for doing business. Technology without a heart would soon be out of business.

    It would not be hard to get quite philosophical about all this. Heidegger talks about brokenness as a precursor of consciousness. It’s when things break that we are lulled out of routines and look around. I’ll leave it there.

  4. I read this post just after putting up a sign on one of our “legacy” computers noting that sadly, printing is not currently available from that computer. We just got a new printer; this computer is the oldest in our fleet and is set up in some fashion that I don’t understand; I will pound away on it some more and probably summon the IT person and try to learn a little about how to make it work. In the meantime, though, I have to say, “I’m sorry, but you can print from any of these other computers” and “we can move your content to another computer so you can print from there.”

    And I can, and do, try to make it not seem terrible and scary that sometimes the printer doesn’t work. I try to help people find options. I know it’s considered sacrilege in some library circles to have “out of order” signs. I’d prefer to avoid them, too, but I work in a real world that includes things that don’t always work, and I need to make my users aware that there are problems, and that we try our best to work around them, and that they can, too.

  5. “We’re all in this together and we haven’t all learned until everyone is leaning.”
    Great blog BTW. I am always glad that I visited.

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