Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reasons why kids are sometimes better at technology

After finishing my masters, I decided I wanted a break before going on to a doctorate program. So at the moment I'm employed doing technical troubleshooting over the phone. While in training, the truism about children being better at technology was brought up. Our trainer confirmed that children were indeed easier to troubleshoot with - because they were better at following directions and did exactly what you told them and nothing more. As a parent, this sounded rather counter to my experience; however as a technician, I've found out that she was right. More often than not, the children I've talked to (after getting the parent's permission) weren't really all that more knowledgeable than Mom and Dad. Of course, as we're often reminded, the customer who actually know what they're doing are usually the last ones to call for technical support, but still there is a pattern between the two populations.

1. Children have less preconceived ideas on how something is supposed to work. It never fails to amaze me the expectations people have of electronic equipment. Despite the fact that they have to replace light bulbs in their homes, flashlights, and cars, there are people in this day and age who still think that electronics should last forever. The fact it comes with a time-limited warantee is completely lost on them. But even more frustrating is the customer who thinks they know how a piece of equipment works and tries to jump ahead of the technician. Children don't do this. They let you tell them what the next step is - even the teenagers.

2. Children focus more on the task and less on the embarrassment. When troubleshooting with a child, there hardly ever any self-esteem problems to deal with. They feel valued just by the fact that an expert is willing to work with them.

3. Children are literal. When you ask a child what is showing on a screen, they will tell you exactly what is on there. If you ask a child if the screen says something specific, they will tell you just that and nothing more. If you ask a child what a cable looks like, they never say it's just a cable.

4. Children are open to being taught. This one is sort of a combination of the others, but I've worked with adults who showed the other traits and still failed in this one. The last thing most technicians want is a customer to keep calling back with the same problem when it is something easily fixed. Also, an educated customer is less likely to panic the next time something goes weird. Panicked customers are always difficult to troubleshoot with.

I could probably tack on that children tend to be more trusting of the technician, but that isn't necessarily why they are better at new technology. And for the record, I've dealt with senior citizens who show these traits and several of them have actually taught themselves to be technically savvy at ages that most people would not thought possible. Elderly women in particular seem good at this. I suspect it is because they don't have the preconceived idea that they have to be experts at it. So you can teach an old dog new tricks, but that can't beat old dogs who can teach themselves.

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