Computers Are Easy, Right? (No, Not Really)

In my fifty-one years on the planet I’ve learned a few things. Mostly, I’ve learned that there are very few “facts”; almost everything comes with room for interpretation.

Jeff Yablon and Gary Yablon at Rowan University Graduation 2011

Even this picture, where a father and his son pose together at the son’s college graduation, might be something other than it appears. It isn’t; my oldest son graduated from college last week, and I’m proud of him. But for goodness’ sake, it’s just a picture, right? Anything can look good for 1/100th of a second!

This segue was brought to you by my desire to slip in a public “congratulations” to my son Gary Yablon on his graduation from Rowan University. Now, onto the message of today’s post

I’ve run businesses for over twenty-five years. In one way or another, all were related to technology. And in my time messing with computers I’ve seen them go from expensive, hard-to-use tools that all but required you to hire a computer geek to help with to tools you can buy for just a couple hundred dollars, plug in, and get to work with—even if you’ve never used a computer before.

One of the byproducts of that business change has been that people who call themselves computer technicians or computer consultants have seen it become harder and harder to make a living as the local computer geek. And that’s what business change is; things evolve to the point that you need to do things differently. People think they don’t need you any more. Your children become adults.

Everything is changing. If you adapt, you can thrive. If you refuse to deal with change, you get lost.

When I started as a computer consultant, I was doing business in a suburb of New York City. There weren’t many people who did what I did, and as I said, businesses were investing large sums in computers that they had no idea how to use. In 1988 I could charge $165 for an hour of my time, and nobody flinched. Now almost twenty-five years later, if I can find people who want to engage us for that kind of help (as opposed to say, the more holistic brand of assistance that Virtual VIP COO Services Provides), they think $100 per hour sounds high. The market for “computer experts” has become saturated, AND computers are cheap and easy to use.

Last weekend, though, I was reminded of what hasn’t changed: processes that require a lot of seldom-used knowledge are still hard.

A friend asked me to help put together a video presentation for her daughter. I’ve done plenty of this kind of thing; I once owned a small television production studio and a small part of what happens at Answer Guy Central is video production. And I gave the young lady who needed my help a heads-up in plenty of time: putting together her ten-minute video was likely to take 8-10 hours.

She waited until the last minute. And my time estimate was spot-on; I spent a whole day editing raw footage, converting it to a usable format, rotating video that had been shot at the wrong orientation, laying in audio overdubs and credits, helping to write a script, and more. All the while, I was being asked, impatiently, “why isn’t this done yet?”.

Was she being unreasonable? Of course. But the point is that things that we come to believe are a certain way aren’t always what we thought. “It’s just some computer work. Surely Jeff Yablon, the famous Computer Answer Guy will be able to bang it out in a few minutes!“.

Keep that story in mind the next time you want something more than word processing, e-mail, and Internet connectivity out of your computers. Computers are hard—at least when you want to do something special.

Need help with your business change and computer support? If you’re in the New York City Area, you can hire The Computer Answer Guy. And if you’re pretty much anywhere else and are looking for the best in fixed-cost computer support for your business, you can’t go wrong with PC-VIP.

And hey, Gary Yablon: congratulations on your changed world. Now, go do something with it, college graduate!