Fear

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

What better day to talk about fear than Halloween?

I don’t have nightmares often, but when I do they tend to follow the same basic theme: I’m running away from somethings (Zombies, Borg, an Evil Empire, etc.) and if I’m caught I’ll be killed or worse – a living death. The further and faster I run, the slower I’m able to move. It feels like I’m running in water and each step is harder than the last. Along the way I find friends or family only to see them killed/assimilated/turned and come after me as well.

Most of the time I wake up and the images disappear like fog dissipating in the sunlight. If it’s a new or particularly horrifying twist on the theme, I might remember it for a day or so but the fear never follows me from the dream world into the real.

In the real world my fears have their own theme: I avoid conflicts for fear or angering or disappointing others. I drag my heels on making calls where I have to tell people ‘no’ or give bad news.

In my career supporting technology, I’ve seen another recurring theme. A number of conversations start like this:

I arrive and asses the situation. Then I ask what has already been tried.

“Nothing,” they respond. “I was afraid I might make it worse.”

Does that sound familiar? Have you ever encountered a computer problem and been paralyzed by fear of making it worse? It’s extremely common.

My father spent 25 years working for Illinois Bell. Yet for years he kept telling me how he wanted to put together a video of his granddaughter but didn’t know how to do it. He had the software and had read books on how to use it, but he had never tried it.

One day he asked for my help. I didn’t know the program either, so most of my “help” consisted of saying, “I don’t know, just try something.”

“I think I’m supposed to just drag across the part I want.” he said.

“Okay. Try it.” was all I had to offer.

“Do you think that will work?” he asked. I just said, “I don’t know. Try it.”

That last exchange went back and forth like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny discussing which hunting season it was.

Finally I got frustrated, grabbed the mouse, dragged across a section of footage and dragged it down into the editing section.[1] It quickly loaded and awaited our next action.

“I thought you didn’t know this program?!”

“I don’t. I just tried it!” I replied, my face getting hot.

“Huh. I guess I was afraid I’d just break it.”

A quick search[2] on the internet shows some of the common human fears to be: terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being alone, nuclear war, flying, heights, clowns, intimacy, snakes, and failure.

Oddly technophobia[3] (fear of technology) isn’t on any of the lists I found. I think that’s because the fear that drives conversations like the ones above isn’t about the technology. It’s a fear of failure and that was on every list I found.

So, how do you get past the fear that you “will only make it worse” when it comes to trying to fix tech problems on your own? I have a three step process.

  1. Make sure you have good backups.[4]
  2. Print out the Tech Support Flowchart from the webcomic XKCD.[5]
  3. Try it.

Next time you have a tech problem, try these three steps. Feel free to send me a message let me know how it went, good or bad.

Happy Halloween!


  1. I don’t know why, but my parents always seem to make me forget my fears of conflict as well as all my lessons about helping people with technology.
  2. And therefore should be considered completely unscientific and taken with a very large grain of salt.
  3. 01000010011011110110111100100001
  4. Everyone should have good backups, but that’s a topic for later.
  5. Source: http://xkcd.com/627

 

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