Please contact your system administrator

I’ve thought a lot about how people interact with the computers they use. I’ve often wondered why people in offices know so little about the computers they use 40 hours a week. In many cases, the machine has not changed in years. The Operating System is the same. The Office applications are the same. They perform the same tasks day in and day out. They’re the 21st Century versions of assembly line workers.

They perform a skill. They perform it repeatedly and anything outside that small skill set is foreign and deemed impossible in their minds.

I often thought about the several times I’ve had to revisit the same people for the same problem over the course of weeks, months, or in some cases years. I see the same people for the same problems and I ask myself, Why?

Why am I solving the same problem for the same person so many times?

I thought perhaps it was a lack of understanding. Maybe the tasks were too difficult, but in comparison to what they did everyday, it was no more difficult, just different.

I thought maybe it was willful ignorance. They knew what they needed. They didn’t like computers. They resented having to use the computer so they were determined to learn as little as possible about it.1

I thought I was failing them in some way. I was not educating them. I was not providing a way for them to understand. I was speaking to them in techno-gibberish. I needed show them. I needed to help them to understand.

I was wrong. Thomas Brand and he gets to the root of it better than I ever could.

He writes,

Windows users are different though. Enterprise Windows users never had to fend for themselves. They never made a meaningful transition to the new and different. They stuck with what the company gave them, the clear and popular choice, and never identified themselves by the technology they were provided.

Relegated to having to ask for administrative rights to do anything on their computers, most Enterprise Windows users never learned to take an interest in administering their own machines because they never could.

This lack of understanding, and the security vulnerabilities of early Windows operating systems made Windows users the primary targets of malicious software and phishing attacks.

Worst still, companies reactions to these threats have been less about user education and more about tightening controls. This gave Windows users even less of an incentive to learn about the machines they sit in front of 40 hours a week.

He works in a role where he supports Mac and Windows computers and the people who use them. He is writing about Enterprise Windows customers in comparison to the Enterprise Mac customers. 2

They have never been challenged. They have never had the ability to go outside of their pre-defined corporate box. I’ve seen effects of his last paragraph all too often.

Anytime there is a threat, the immediate reaction is to clamp down on rights and abilities on the computers instead of educating people about the problem. Security is always the battle cry instead of Education. Why educate people when you can simply ban them from doing anything to hurt themselves or the company’s equipment? Security seems like the easy answer.

Working in the IT field, I have never been on the other side of the administrative rights fence. I have always had the ability and knowledge of working around problems and the abilities to do so.

I never had to call and ask for permission to install software. When I wanted something, I would load it on to a USB drive and run portable versions of the software I wanted to use I knew the company would not approve.

Corporate computing rewards the compliant and punishes the inquisitive. There is no benefit in learning more than what is required to perform a task. There is no room for exploration and learning. The corporate world rewards conformity and obedience. The structure of the system explains the results of that system. Why would anyone take in interest in something denied to them anyway?

  1. There is some truth to this one. Certain people are set in their ways and no amount of help you can offer will make them help themselves. 

  2. Macs and PCs in an Enterprise environment versus a Home environment are extremely different, especially on the Apple side. 


There are two rules in life I need to remember.

1. There will always be people better than me at everything.

2. There will always be people who marvel at what I do and swear they can never be as good.

We are all in the middle of what we know and what we do. There will always be people on both sides of us.

I look up to amazing designers and photographers, writers and thinkers. And others look up to me in the same way.

Knowledge is a spectrum, not an absolute.

Theory of Knowledge

When I was in high school I had the good fortune to take part in the International Baccalaureate program. Part of the program was a class called Theory of Knowledge. The entire purpose of this class was to teach us how to think. Is this even something considered in schools anymore?

We looked into philosophy and art history and theories in science and mathematics. The brunt of the class was a series of essays and associated presentations. The essays most self-directed but something which explored a deeper connection and meaning to work. I remember writing at length about the similarities between Nine Inch Nails and Edgar Allan Poe’s work. I recall writing about Dave Barry and Weird Al Yankovic’s style of humor and entertainment.

When we weren’t writing, we were talking. Not just talking but discussing and arguing. We were putting forth ideas and theories and shooting them down or supporting them.

There were not a lot of rights answers in Theory of Knowledge, TOK for short. The class was about thinking and drawing our own conclusions and examining how we arrived at them.

This all came flooding back into my head tonight as I read James Shelley’s post Like, the Post-Literate Society.

1984 is a great book because it is just as timely as it is timeless. It is a tale on control and media and influencing entire populations through fear and censorship. ((Sound familiar?))

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten…

Sounds a bit like social media doesn’t it? Like. #Tweet. Reblog.

In my thinking about TOK I remembered reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I cannot tell you what this book is about. Only that is keeps within the theme of thinking and learning.


The author says this about his work,

Franz Kafka once wrote to a friend that the only books worth reading are those that “wake us up with a blow on the head” and send us reeling out into the street, not knowing who or what we are. According to thousands of readers I’ve heard from, this is exactly what Ishmael does for them. What makes Ishmael important is not what it’s “about” but rather what it DOES to you–and this is what you need to share with your friends. (Source)

As much as I love Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook they tend to be echo chambers. The same links, stories, ideas tend to circle round and round ad infinitum. I find myself craving new information. I want to think about new things and I want to explore again.

I have spent many hours on introspection because I feel it is important to look inward to best understand myself.

With that, I am going to buy Ishmael, and the two followup books having lent, lost or sold my copies years ago. I am going to re-examine how I think. I need something to wake me up with a blow to the head. I am ready to be a pupil again.

“Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

Read Ishmael.

Then perhaps you can answer,

“With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?”


Over at the Bridging the Nerd Gap, Brett Kelly wrote about being real. and it made me think. He writes about never feeling like a “real” programmer,

He writes,

“I bought books, annoyed smart people with questions and generally fumbled my way into a passable set of programming skills. Truth be told, I’ve never felt much like a “real” programmer.”

Additionally, he recently wrote Evernote Essentials which I own a copy of and can attest to its thoroughness and quality. Even through he doesn’t feel like a real author. I’d say 20,000 words about a software program in convenient book form makes you as real an author as anyone.

This resonated with me because that’s how I’ve lived all my life. I am a huge believe in self-teaching and if you want to learn something, go learn it. Don’t wait to be taught it or find a teacher. The knowledge is out there, go find it.

From an early age I taught myself most of what I wanted to know. I wanted to make magazines so I learned PageMaker and Photoshop.
I wanted to learn more about computers so I tinkered. I dismantled and I repaired. I learned how they tick and what made them work.
I wanted to learn the web so I taught myself HTML and CSS.

I’ve done a great many things and have random and varying passions. I’ve never really been a real anything. I was always the self-taught hack. I didn’t go to school to learn about computers. I played and experimented until I learned.

I was speaking to one of the Human Resources people at work as I helped them with a computer issue and was asked what my degree is school was. He assumed it was Computer Science or something technical.

Much to his surprise, I responded with, Creative Advertising. ((My running joke is I have a B.S. in Communications. Which is an asset to handling the politics of technical work.))

I believe I got my sense of hard work, experimentation and self-teaching from my parents. I had the privilege growing up to learn about the printing world from my parents.

Both parents at one time owned and ran their own businesses. I learned a lot about hard work from them. When you are the company there is no letting up. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

Learning is a life-long pursuit. There is no end to it when we leave the doors of the schoolhouse. I’ve been in the working world long enough to know many of the people doing jobs are not doing anything they have formal training to do.