With the rise of smartphones and tablets, it's easy to take for granted that everyone carries around a mini computer and knows how to use it. But it wasn't long ago when PCs were exotic items, tech savvy was hard to come by, and we in IT had to spell out in no uncertain terms how the machines worked. (Granted, we still do all that, but in some cases, the learning curve isn't quite as steep now.)
Our IT department lived out this scenario regularly, supporting numerous employees who'd been with the organization since its inception -- back when paper was the bloodline of the office and the AS400 was considered a technological marvel.
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Though the technology evolved during these users' tenure at the company, let's just say their computer fluency didn't increase as much as their age. As frustrating as it can be for us in IT to explain the basics over and over again, for these users it must be maddening to struggle with computer knowledge and processes that are second nature to later generations. Of course, it leads to rather interesting conversations.
When this story took place, everyone used small tower PCs and flat-screen monitors. The lease on all the monitors was up, so we had to ship them back to headquarters and swap in new ones.
It was a routine operation for us in the IT department. We let everyone know what was going to happen, then started working our way from desk to desk.
The process usually eats up only a few minutes, but not at one workstation. I went to the user's desk and told her why I was there and what I needed to do. She asked me to come back in an hour or two because she wasn't done saving all her stuff to the network drive.
That struck me as odd, since it only takes a couple of minutes to save any opened documents and power off the machines. I looked at her screen and saw that she was transferring about 2GB of data -- her entire My Documents folder -- to the network drive.
I asked her why she was doing that; I was just going to replace her monitor and leave her computer as is. She said she wanted to save her stuff before I took her computer away. I told her again I was taking the monitor, not the tower, and her stuff would not go anywhere.
She didn't know what I was talking about, so I pointed to her tower and said, "That's your computer, and all your stuff is in there. I just need to take the monitor." She was still confused, so I backed up and explained that all computers consist of basically two parts, the display and the tower, and what each was used for.
After further explanation, assurances, and questions, she was satisfied and let me proceed. I set up her new monitor and showed her that her files were still there. She was relieved and grateful to understand which piece of hardware housed her files.
The never-ending setup
But our jobs are never done, and technology changes. As a result, users have to learn to think through technology in a different way than they're used to. In turn, we have to find new ways to explain.
Months later the lease for the towers had expired and our manager decided to fit some users with all-in-one PCs where, of course, the monitor and computer are combined into one unit. Yes, my lectured user was one of the people assigned a new machine.
I'm just glad I didn't have to do the setup. I'm sure the unfortunate tech had a lot of explaining to do to this poor user on why she'd received only half a computer.
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This story, "Plea to IT: Don't mess with my monitor," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.