Oh, don't look so surprised. It's not just me - where do you think "RTFM" came from? People weren't saying that to be nice - they were saying it because they were ticked off, annoyed, pissed.. and you know it. Grumpy is rampant in the tech world.
It is amusing how often "grumpy" turns up in conjunction with "Unix" or "Linux". People use it as their login names, as the name for projects.. there's even a "GrumpyLinux" distribution. It's very much a part of our culture. We're grumpy and we know it.
I'm extra cranky right now because I've been sick with the flu for nearly a week and the codeine I took for the cough probably did nothing to smooth my usually less than charming personality. Even on my best days I'm no diplomat. Even when I am honestly feeling nothing but good will, people sometimes think I'm angry. You can blame part of that on people confusing blunt honesty with anger. Who can blame them? They hardly ever hear bluntness unless it was driven by anger; ordinary speech will tie itself in a knot before it ever says the simple truth.
Is that why we have a reputation for short tempers? Because we Unixy folk are used to direct commands that do what they are supposed to do, does that directness overflow to our relations with people?
I admit it: I flare up pretty easily. The things that set me off are important things like justice, truth, fairness.. when some cretin with a barely functional forebrain makes his mouth spew hatred, yeah, I get angry. I wouldn't say I get angry when someone lacks the ability to understand a simple answer, but I admit to feeling frustrated.
I can't tell you how many times I have refunded money paid to me for support answers when it turned out that the person asking couldn't understand the answers I had already given them. I'm not saying they were stupid; I'm saying they lacked technological understanding. They might have been brilliant lawyers, musicians or whatever, but they couldn't understand the answer I gave and I lacked the patience to explain it, so I gave up and refunded their money.
Now I know somebody is going to protest. Yes, I could have charged them more money and found a way to help them. I could have, but THAT'S NOT WHAT I WANT TO DO. I like providing help to people who are smart enough to help themselves but are just stuck on one simple thing they didn't know.
That's where the RTFM came from, I'm sure. I'm sure that every person who ever typed that into a response was feeling the same thing: yes, I could take you by the hand and teach you the silly little thing you need to know, but I'd like to see you exhibit something vaguely resembling intelligence and effort and figure THAT out by yourself.
Ooops, there's that "vaguely resembling intelligence" thing. Kind of sounds like we think somebody might not be too bright, doesn't it? Well, in a way, maybe. Shouldn't they have been smart enough to know they wouldn't understand the answer? I don't call up my doctor saying that I'm considering performing surgery on my wife's brain and I "just have one quick question".
OK, OK, that's extreme. I'll back down on the intelligence thing. These people probably do think they are going to get an "Oh yeah, just open up the HELPME Manager and click on the 'Everybody Forgets To Click This' box" answer. They don't realize that that they might need to be able to use a text editor - and if they do, they think that Microsoft Word is a good choice for that function. They don't realize that if they are asking about a networking problem, it's reasonable for me to ask about their router. Reasonable for me, not so reasonable for someone who says "No, I don't have a router - we have a switch!"
So, OK, it's my fault for not having patience. I'm lazy, which is a character flaw said to be common in all programmers. Is that the source of our discontent? Are we just too lazy to explain at length? Maybe. Frankly, I find myself searching for words when somebody tells me that their Unix box might have a virus because the printer stopped working. Where do you start? Where do you start with the guy who is muttering about cookies and wants his disk defragged to take out the hidden virus code? OK, so I'm an impatient jerk, but honestly: where DO you start?
I think the problem really is that so many people assume they know much more than they do. I don't tell my car mechanic that the car needs a tuneup because the glove compartment light is out, but we get things like that all the time in computer support. I blame Microsoft.. well, heck, I'd blame them for anything, but in this case I think it's a fair complaint. They've created an army of people who think clicking in windows is using a computer. Damn, now I've gone and reminded myself of Microsoft and that ALWAYS puts me in a bad mood!
You in the back who started raising your hand - what the hell do YOU want? You got a question, Mister? It damn well better be a good one!
Seriously, if you have a question, see When you need help NOW. I might refund your money if I can't help or if I'm just too lazy, but most of the time you will get real help and I'll only be a little grumpy.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2009-11-07 Anthony Lawrence