Sucking at tech support, and the Sea of Red Ink

Not long ago, I asked an editorial community how it felt about clients’ requests to be taught and guided in the use of computers, email, and especially software such as MS Word.

Results were all over the board, from “Sure, I’m an expert” to “Not only no but hell no” to “If they want to pay me for it, I’m their huckleberry.” I asked because I don’t like it and am not good at it, and was wondering if this was rare. The reasons are complex, but are based on this: when I left that field behind, it was like a weight off my shoulders, and I don’t like re-shouldering it. Few seem to understand this reluctance, but we all have different paths and experiences. There are former police officers who never again touch a firearm once they retire. You couldn’t get my football widow mother to sit down and watch a game if I were playing in it, not even if you stapled her to the chair and propped her eyelids open à la A Clockwork Orange. She would look away and sing to drown out the audio for all three and a half hours. I think she’d rather have a bucket of horse turds dropped in her lap than a football.

So I was reading what the other editors said about tech support, and then one of the responses hit me with a flash of the road to Damascus (and no, it wasn’t a Syrian Arab Air Force strike aircraft firing rockets). There are Youtubes on everything. I can’t possibly know what the client is seeing, and I’m not willing to set up some form of screen-sharing remote access software. If I can find out the feature they need help with, and the version they are using, I can find them a YT that will discuss how the feature works. Their screen will look like what the video shows, and menu selections will have the same names as they will see on the video.

It feels like liberation.

Here is a helpful hint for all those of you who work with Word and an editor: Go to YT and search for ” track changes ” plus the version (e.g. ” Word 2013 “). Watch them. Live them. Groove them.

Because I’m still using Word 2007, I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version, and what I see on my screen simply is not what you see. All I can do is confuse you.

I can’t charge you for confusing you. Not nice. I already do enough free work (emails, phone discussions) and have to establish a boundary, stay within my comfort and happiness zone. Doing tech support makes me not want to do my work at all, and I can’t afford that.

That still leaves the Track Changes learning curve, which brings into play the Sea of Red Ink. This is where their first view of the finished product, by default, shows it looking like a e-splatter film. I had one client just accept all the changes without review, so traumatized were they.

There’s a solution and it involves a better way to send the client his or her results. Send two versions: one with all changes accepted (no Sea of Red Ink), one with the changes awaiting acceptance (e-splatter film). I don’t like it, but I have to accept that the Sea of Red Ink is scary when it’s the first thing clients see. It isn’t the version I want them to begin with. What I normally want them to do first is read the edited version (which is not the default view in Track Changes, and which can’t be saved to be the default view) all the way through, with just comments, and see how it feels; see how they like the way they sound, just read and react.

Then I want them to review it with the tracked changes. The Sea of Red Ink will now show, but by now, the client will realize that every single teensy correction (loose space, case error, changed comma, fixed typo) leaves a trail of red pixels out to the margin. This will show, should show, that the Sea of Red Ink is not nearly as fearful as once believed. The simple act of a global S&R for “two spaces, replace with one,” will coat in e-splatter any page in most mss even though it led to no substantive alterations. It looks bloody, but it’s a minor scratch.

Sounds so reasonable, right?

Hardly any of them have ever paid attention to these directions. They dove straight into the Sea of Red Ink (default view), had whatever crisis they were going to have, and either recovered or did not. Their lips said “yes, yes” but their eyes said “FOAD FOAD FOAD,” as one long-ago RA colleague used to say about residents and activities. For me to expect them to follow my suggestions is naïve. I have to make that easier for them.

I’m tired of the crises and worrying about them, and I’m ten times tired of being asked for tech support. So now I’m going to send two versions as described earlier, so that I don’t have to do tech support to help them face the Sea of Red Ink. They never have to see it if they prefer not to; they can, if they wish, just use the fully accepted copy and put comments/edits there. It will still have changes tracked. This should make an enormous difference in outcomes, without ever removing acceptance or rejection of changes from their own hands, where that process belongs.

Not paying attention to that particular group any more due to excessive thought/speech policing, but I have to credit it for this one valuable thing. At least, in return for the many dozens of people I helped, I did get one help back. Could be worse.

2 thoughts on “Sucking at tech support, and the Sea of Red Ink”

  1. Love it: “…I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version…” That’s how it is with most tech.


    1. Indeed it is. Remember when Team Watson decided everyone should now dump their AT bus tech and start buying PS/2s? We were told it was going to be so great. And then their first MCA machines didn’t have enough horsepower to make OS/2 choke. And they were handed to me and I was told to sell them. At cost, if necessary.


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