Application and software vendors are offering more customer support in places like Facebook in addition to their more formal channels. Done well, this enlists volunteer help from users, recreating some of the feel from the earlier days of the online world where there was often a strong sense of shared community.
In those earlier days, there was a threshold level of technical sophistication that you could rely on. As the internet began to open up, that level began to drop slowly. A community ethos and slow broadening of participation led to some excellent advice on how to take full advantage of the available expertise. For my own selfish benefit, I pulled together several of the best guidelines for seeking technical advice:
- Scripting News: Writing good bug reports
- How to Report Bugs Effectively
- How To Ask Questions The Smart Way – Eric Raymond
As I reread these guides, however, and sampled the recurring questions surfacing in some of these more recent support environments, I was struck by a disconnect between today’s questions and these guides. In tech support circles, there is an old, disparaging, term about certain kinds of user interactions—PEBKAC, which is an acronym for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.” In other words, the problem is user ignorance .
That feels a tad arrogant. It calls to mind the late Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd Law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
and what is perhaps a more pertinent variation offered by science fiction author Gregory Benford:
Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
We operate in a world that is magical to many of it’s inhabitants. Most are content to accept that world as a place of routine magic. But too many are also content to choose to operate at Muggles; to leave understanding the magic to others. To make that choice is to reject the notion that deeper knowledge is a path to more effective leverage of the available tools.
If we accept the responsibility of learning how the magic works, we open up the possibility of acquiring greater power over our world.