Geeks and Their Advice

Not all geeks are like Chuck.

Not all geeks are like Chuck. However, I actually do know Kung-Fu.*

I recently read an article, The Geek shall inherit the Earth, which basically states that non-technical people would be wise to follow the advice of those with technology knowledge. As a technology consultant, I obviously agree that people should seek the counsel of those who have more experience or a better knowledge of something they are not as proficient in. But the reality is that in today’s technology market, people need to be careful whom they are getting their advice from. There is a big difference between a technology “geek” and a trustworthy technology consultant.

In the past, yes, “geeks” were largely responsible for the technical education of the “rest of us”. And I say this as a fellow geek, that time has passed. That was the Old World of Technology, where technology knowledge and decisions flowed from the top-down. That was the era of trickle-down technology, where usually big business and organizations set the direction of technology. The big IT departments were the ones who standardized the technology for their organizations, decided what the employees would use, and ultimately most people in the home would use what they had at work. And honestly, this was not optimal for individuals and small business.

We have now entered the New World of Technology. Consumers and small business owners by and large are no longer waiting for technology to trickle-down to them (and those that do are writing their own epitaphs). Empowered by user-friendly devices and cloud computing, they are making their own technology decisions. Top-down has been replaced with bottom-up. IT departments are no longer dictating end-user technology; they are in fact now being told by their users what they are expected to support (to the great consternation of many in IT). Users are no longer sheep and the geek is no longer the shepherd. This is a good thing, if not a truly great thing.

The danger with geeks offering advice is that too often they only view technology from their perspective, which is a perspective quite unlike that which most people have. As we geeks know, life is a lot different when you have a deep understanding of technology. Tech seems a lot less scary and we are able to do things with technology that most people wouldn’t have the first clue of. However, that viewpoint changes our priority on what features and benefits are important when it comes to technology.

Where we geeks often put a premium on technological specifications such as gigahertz or the number and type of ports a device has, the average mainstream technology user out there could care less about those things. They just want things that work and empower them. We as geeks care to a great degree about the tool itself. Most people don’t care about the tool. They care about what the tool can do for them. We geeks don’t mind some technical glitches or awkward user interfaces. We are comfortable enough with technology where we can just work around little problems. Average users don’t want the tool getting in the way of getting things done. They feel defeated when glitches pop up or are stymied with awkward user interfaces.

For these reasons, it is no wonder many who consider themselves technology savvy are truly shocked and surprised at Apple’s success. Geeks just don’t get the allure of the easy-to-use Apple products and services. And that is exactly why geeks shouldn’t be offering their advice and recommendations to average, non-technical users. Until they finally do get why Apple products have captured the mainstream of society, what they value in technology – and what they would personally use and recommend – in most cases just isn’t relevant to the rest of the world.

It frustrates me to no end when my clients inform me they purchased some Android phone because that is what the sales person at the cell phone store or Best Buy recommended for them. Or because their nephew has one and told them it was “the best”. That’s a geek making a geek recommendation and you are not a geek! Sure, I’ll make more money from them because evidence has shown they’re going to have more technical issues with their Android phone than if they had purchased an iPhone. But I really would rather have clients who are happy with their technology and are looking to do more with it instead of clients who call me because they are frustrated with their¬†technology and need it fixed.

The key difference between a “geek” and a trustworthy technology professional is that trustworthy professional can take their knowledge and give good advice to technology “laypeople”, who almost certainly use technology in a totally different way than they do personally. It takes quite a bit of acumen, for example,¬†to recommend an iPhone to someone who is getting their first smartphone, when you personally prefer an Android phone. You must first come to grips with how the other person uses technology and their comfort level with it, and then match what will give them (not you) the best user experience.

So please, if you are a geek and are asked by a non-geek for a technology recommendation, don’t give them the same advice that you would give a fellow geek. As the old saying goes, if you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all. When it comes to the New World of Technology, offering Old World advice simply isn’t nice and saying nothing at all would be much appreciated.

* Technically I am a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is a Korean martial art. Kung Fu is a traditional Chinese martial art, which I’ve never actually trained in, but I have done my own studying on. Either way, Chuck’s famous phrase was “I know Kung-Fu”, which was the same thing that Neo from The Matrix said. So it just wouldn’t have been the same to say “I know Tae Kwon Do”. And it’s my blog and I can do what I want to so there.