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James Delingpole

What techies are actually doing when they fix your computer

It’s a shocking discovery – now you can use it too

3 January 2015

9:00 AM

3 January 2015

9:00 AM

Just before Christmas I achieved something so totally, incredibly amazing that I think it probably ranks among the greatest things I have ever done. In terms of danger, raw physical courage and menace overcome, it was at least on a par with cage-diving with great white sharks or taking on the ‘Breastapo’ the other week over that incident in Claridge’s. As far as personal satisfaction goes, it felt like getting into Oxford, teaching my children to read, bagging a Macnab and climbing Everest blindfold on the same weekend.

What I did was this: there was a problem on my computer — and I fixed it. All by myself!

When I took to Twitter to broadcast the fantastic news it didn’t go quite as viral as I’d hoped. Perhaps you’re one of those people who didn’t respond excitedly. Perhaps you’ve always fixed the problems on your computer and frankly never found it any big deal. If so, stop reading now. In fact, piss off why don’t you? This piece is not meant for you. Rather it’s for all those normal people out there — arts graduates especially, I would imagine — who find the thought of trying to mend their computer about as appetising as performing an emergency auto-tracheotomy with a kitchen knife and a Bic biro.

Does that more or less describe you? Excellent. Now read on, for I have something truly shocking to tell you.


OK, so we’ve established that you’re not remotely a computer geek. From which it follows, I strongly suspect, that by far the most valued specialist professional in your life — certainly in the same elite category as your obstetrician, your ‘back man’ or your weed dealer — is your friendly neighbourhood computer techie.

Whenever he comes round to your house, you’re so grateful for his presence that all you want to do is hug him and make him lots of cups of tea (or ground coffee, if His Imperial Godness prefers) and listen to him rambling on about whatever subject takes his fancy. Even though you know you’re paying for his time, you’re not bothered overmuch because the main thing is, you’ve got him. He’s not the voice at the end of the answer message, like he was on the five previous days you tried (because, heaven knows, these experts aren’t half in demand these days). He’s actually here, now, with your computer — which means that by the time he leaves the horrid technological problem which has been destroying your life utterly for nearly a week now will happily and ingeniously have been magicked away by this veritable Turing of geeky wizardry.

Is that roughly how it is for you? Well up till recently it was for me too. But then my email went down. And my computer techie didn’t respond to my initial pleas for assistance. So I realised that if I didn’t want to run the risk of losing many thousands of pounds worth of tempting commissions or life-changing job offers, then I would either have to find an alternative techie or somehow — dream on! — sort out the problem myself by going on to Twitter to see if anyone had any recommendations. Most respondents just took the mickey, as people do on Twitter. But a couple of more sympathetic ones sent me some links which might help.

One particularly terrifying procedure involved resetting my Home Folder permissions. This made me nervous because it seemed to involve my having to remember my main password — something hitherto I have preferred outsourcing to my techies. (God, what power they have to destroy your life: they know everything, these people, from how to get into your bank account to the quantity and variety of porn you consume.) What if I got it wrong and found not just my Mac Mail out of action but my entire operating system?

Fortunately, before I could do any damage I finally got hold of my techie. He did that clever thing techies do where they remotely access your computer and you watch, amazed, as your cursor zigs and zags across your screen as if possessed by a ghost. After 40 minutes of this, my techie decided something I could have told him from the start because I’d done my research: my Mail needed rebuilding. The only way to do this, he said, would be to reinstall my entire operating system, which I’d have to do myself and which would take a whole day.

When this didn’t work either, I sank into a pit of despair. Everything I had read about the problem, everything my techie had confirmed about the problem, was that this was the kind of rare, serious, intractable issue which could only be solved with aeons of techie man-hours and vast wads of cash. This made me so grumpy and objectionable that, for once, my wife didn’t mind when I slunk from the dinner table to console myself with a bout of pointless internet-surfing therapy. I googled ‘How to rebuild Mac Mail’, found a few more leads, all of them useless. All of them, that is, bar one… .

‘I’ve done it! I’ve done it! I’ve done the most incredible thing in the history of the world!’ I crowed, no more than half an hour later. And my wife, knowing my tech skills as she does, agreed that this was no overstatement.

Anyway, since then I’ve been doing a bit of asking around and this is what I discovered: the reason techies look so shifty when you peer over their shoulder as they work and the reason they take so inordinately long is that, as often as not, they’re doing exactly what I did. Then, for the privilege of doing what you could have done if only you hadn’t been petrified by your terror of tech and blinded by your reverence for ‘experts’, they charge you squillions.

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