When you're technically challenged, a friend can be very helpful.


by Annie Korzen

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I am so technically challenged that when something goes wrong with my laptop, I can't even call for help because the technicians always have questions that I am too dumb to answer. They said, "How do you get your Internet?" The correct answer would have been, "Time Warner cable." My reply was, "Uh, it's in my computer and I just click onto it." And it's not just the computer that mystifies me. It's also the digital camera, the cell phone, the Palm Pilot, the DVD player, and the TiVo system. The only modern device I can operate without assistance is my electric toothbrush.

I realized a few years ago that I would have to find a part-time-once-in-a-while techie nerd who would be patient with my ignorance and not charge a fortune. In many homes, that person would be the resident twelve-year-old, but our nest is empty, so I called the Geek Squad and asked their prices. They don't have an hourly rate; they charge a flat fee for each specific job. Hooking up a printer, for example, costs $150. I don't think so.

Then I looked at some online ads for home tech help. The hourly rate averaged between sixty and ninety bucks. Since that's more than I earn, I decided to find my own private geek. I took a free ad on Craigslist and offered twenty bucks an hour, figuring I would get a high school student. I got so many responses from overqualified adults that I had to remove the ad after half a day and this was before the country went into the Second Great Depression. Some responders were retirees who wanted a little extra cash. Some were graduate students. Some seemed highly qualified but had accents that were just too difficult to decipher.

A few friends expressed concern about my letting a stranger into the house, but I interviewed all the applicants over the phone and felt confident that I could weed out the crazies like the guy who laughed maniacally at everything I said. I finally settled on Jay, a young filmmaker who was between gigs. I felt guilty about paying him so little, so I promised to find him other clients who could pay more. This took only a few phone calls to the Yenta Brigade: Everyone I know needs tech help.

The first thing Jay helped me with was my TiVo problem. I had an old unit that had become very unreliable, and there's nothing more tragic than sitting down with some tea and cookies to watch the latest installment of Lost and discovering that you have recorded one hour of the Shopping Network.

Jay happened to have an extra unused unit, which he sold me for a hundred bucks, and he installed it for me. Then he spent two hours on the phone with someone in the Philippines, trying to figure out why the new unit was as erratic as the old one. It turned out to be a problem with the phone line, so he got us a little gizmo that connects the TiVo to our cable system. A nice little bonus was that he convinced them to continue my original free lifetime contract. I could never, ever, in a million years have accomplished any of this myself.

Then Jay installed a program in my computer called Crossloop, which allows him to log onto my computer from his home when I have a problem. It saves him travel time, and it saves me from having to get out of my pajamas, which I often don't do until 4pm.

It turned out that Jay also likes to do handyman work, so he has fixed a broken gate and installed some security lights. I wonder if he could cut Benni's hair.

Annie Korzen is a comedy writer and performer whose humorous essays have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and more. She has delivered commentaries on NPR's Morning Edition and appeared on Oprah. She gives lectures and performs her solo comedy show around the world. This article from her new book The Bargain Junkie. You can find it at www.thebargainjunkie.com or at Amazon and B&N.

Take the Next Step:

  • Check Electronics product reviews at Cheapism.com before you spend your money on electronics.
  • A good "online friend" to have for your computer needs is "The Computer Lady." She has a weekly email newsletter that is full of helpful information. You can subscribe for free here.

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