mac.column.ted: The Demise of Troubleshooters?

<p><i><b>A personal farewell</b>. This is my final mac.column.ted column. It also represents the end of my formal association with MacFixIt. As many of you know, I founded this site back in 1996 and sold it to TechTracker in 2000. Over the ensuing years,

CNET staff
4 min read

Written by Ted Landau
June 2009

A personal farewell. This is my final mac.column.ted column. It also represents the end of my formal association with MacFixIt. As many of you know, I founded this site back in 1996 and sold it to TechTracker in 2000. Over the ensuing years, I maintained my relationship with MacFixit, initially as editor and later as the author of this monthly column. (If you're really curious, you can read a more detailed history here.) Now, with the transition of ownership to CNET/CBS, MacFixIt is heading in new directions. And so we are parting ways, still friends.

It's a bittersweet moment for me. I feel a bit like a parent who has watched their child grow up, seek independence, and make a successful life of their own. MacFixIt will always be a part of who I am. I remain proud of the kid who grew up to make a mark in the Mac community beyond anything I ever imagined.

I am not disappearing from the Mac scene. I will be continuing with the work that I have already been doing at other sites (notably Macworld and The Mac Observer). As for MacFixIt, I wish it continued success in the months and years ahead.

Given this transition, I thought the topic for this last column was especially appropriate.

Far beyond the horizon of the distant future, I am confident we will still have a need for troubleshooting computers. No matter how easy and reliable computers become, things will inevitably go wrong. And it's unlikely they will be able to fix themselves. Maybe someday a Mac will be as maintenance-free as the toaster that Steve Jobs once hoped the original Mac would emulate. But, given the complexity of computers, I don't see this happening any time soon.

On the other hand, what we may be able to do without, rather soon, are professional troubleshooters. Oh, I know, I am exaggerating a bit here. One need only visit the Genius Bar at any Apple Store to see how many people still seek help for their Macs.

Indeed, I continue to be surprised by the minimal knowledge level of many Mac users. I recently learned that a friend of mine, despite years of using a Mac, remained unaware of the existence of copy and paste. Many Mac users could not tell you what it means to "go to the Finder" or even how to locate a file in the Finder (instead, they access documents entirely from the Open and Save dialogs of applications).

Not surprisingly, if a problem crops up, such users almost never try to solve it themselves. With such a lack of basic knowledge, I suppose that is wise. However, the lack of knowledge itself comes from a belief (a misconception, in my view) that computers are too complicated and too mysterious to even begin to master. This gets combined with a lack of self-confidence--a belief that, no matter how trivial the problem, the solution is beyond the user's grasp. Whenever something goes wrong, it's time to call a repair person, as a person might inevitably do with most other household appliances, from dishwashers to televisions.

So, yes, I don't really see the market for troubleshooters evaporating any time soon. At least for these users.

However, for those who are willing to tackle troubleshooting on their own, the news could hardly be better. This is where I see the big change from years ago. We are entering a golden age of troubleshooting. Never has troubleshooting your Mac been easier to do.

This is true despite the fact that computers are more complicated and problems are more varied than ever before. Solutions are so symptom specific that no one person can remember them all. There is no longer a small set of "troubleshooting tools" that can handle most of the issues that crop up. Still--a bit paradoxically perhaps--most common computer problems can be resolved by the user without professional help.

What's the resolution of this paradox? One thing: the World Wide Web. As with many other endeavors, from publishing newspapers to selling books, the Web has changed everything. Assuming you were even willing to make the effort, what used to require hours of reading manuals, scouring magazines and/or attending user group meetings can now be accomplished by a simple Google search. Perhaps you'll want to throw in a separate search of Apple Support or sites such as MacFixIt. Regardless, within minutes, you'll likely have an answer.

One quick example: Did you get an "unknown error (13014)" when trying to sync your iPhone? Not to worry. It may sound a bit scary. But it's not. It's not even "unknown." Just go to this Web page for Apple's instructions on how to deal with the error message. Finding this page on your own is as simple as searching for "unknown error 13014" in Google.

More than ever, the need to seek outside help to fix your Mac is the exception rather than the rule. The information required to troubleshoot most Mac problems is freely available and waiting for you. All you need to do is give it a try.

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