In my family, we have our own, resident, tech support guy: James. Whenever a printer breaks, whenever an iPhone can’t access the internet, whenever Netflix is on the blink, everyone knows to call James and he’ll fix it. But, ironically, James hates being thought of as a “techie guy”. He isn’t overly into any of this stuff. He doesn’t subscribe to Apple’s email newsletter or Wired Magazine (full disclosure: I don’t know if Apple actually has a newsletter, and I just Googled “technology magazine” to find the name of one). So why do people think he possesses such knowledge and ability? What is the source of this technological prowess? Having been in a relationship with him for almost a decade, I can tell you the secret: he was born in 1990.
Yes there’s actually nothing “techie” that James can do that a lot of 20-somethings couldn’t probably work out how to do also. We grew up in an age of technology. We approach new systems and devices with an attitude of “let’s work this out then” because, even if it’s unfamiliar, we’ve learnt you can often have an explore, poke around a bit and not break anything. And if we really get stuck, Google and YouTube will probably provide the answers. We’re IT-literate, it’s a language we grew up speaking. It’s understandable why it sounds like gibberish to people born before the digital boom, and they turn to people like James for help with even the most basic stuff.
But it’s not experience with technology that makes people like James good at it, it’s the “let’s work this out” attitude that people like James have. As I mull it over, I realise that we have a lot of “go-to” people in my family for a whole breadth of expertise. My uncle is a heating engineer, which means he gets the call for anything of a build it/fix it nature. My grandma is a dab hand with a sewing machine, so I give her all my clothes to alter even though I have a machine myself. I always get sent proof-reading. And while it’s a good system, while it’s nice to delegate any of life’s challenges to the resident expert in the family, I wonder why we go straight to delegation before having a go ourselves.
This is not just my family, I notice it everywhere I go. In workplaces, in churches, in friendship groups; someone has their role, their thing, and so no one else in the group need try to do that thing themselves. There’s one friend who will organise group events, and no one else does the legwork. There’s the person in the office who can’t work a computer and gets everyone else to download things for them. There’s the person in the house who always cooks dinner, because they’re just so good at it. We don’t have to work out how to do it ourselves, there’s an expert in the house.
And before I get too preachy, I know that delegating responsibility is something I’m definitely guilty of. If I’m seeing my friend Beth, I don’t even bother to look at train times because I know she’ll tell me which train to get. If there’s any DIY to do, I leave that to James (you’ll notice the secondary theme of this blog is: gosh, doesn’t James do a lot of nice things for people?) And my excuse – an excuse that a lot of people use – is, “Well, you’re just better at that stuff than me.” Maybe they are. Maybe they’ve just had a go before. Either way, that shouldn’t let me off the hook.
Because when you’re on the other side of it, when you’re the person who always gets the call because someone you know “just can’t do that sort of thing,” it’s one of the most annoying things in the universe. You know they haven’t even bothered trying to do it themselves. You know they’re not asking you to teach them how to do it for next time, they’re just going to keep asking and asking so they never have to learn. And while “you’re just better at that stuff than me” seems like a compliment, it’s often applied to a patronisingly easy thing to do. The thing they’re asking for isn’t rocket science, or anything involving a high degree of talent or creativity or actual expertise. It’s just an excuse to hide behind. People say, “Oh, I don’t do computers” or “Come on, you know I’m rubbish with money” and they think that means they can hide behind that label.
But who says that means you never have to try? We live in an age of convenience, where anything that’s even mildly challenging can be outsourced to someone else. But I think that’s turning us into terrible humans. I think we’re missing out on the sense of achievement you get from doing something for yourself, especially when that thing doesn’t fall into your natural wheelhouse. I think we’re losing responsibility over our own lives. If you’re an adult, you should step up and handle your business. Don’t buy into the lie that you can’t do something just because you’ve never done it before (and don’t buy into the lie that someone else can’t do something, and enable them by doing it for them). Everyone has to start somewhere, so start now.
The next time you’re about to say you can’t do something, the next time you find yourself reaching for the phone to ask your resident expert to do it instead, ask yourself, “Why not me?” Why couldn’t you fix your own bike or change the oil in your own car? Why couldn’t you sew that button or set up your online banking or do a million of other basic things that other people manage without a problem? Yes, some people have specific talents. Yes, someone else might be able to do it quicker or better or more easily than you can – but that shouldn’t mean they have to. Learn from a digital age 20-something who needs to take her own advice: grow up, have a poke around and, if you get really stuck, you can probably Google it.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti