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The Learned Helplessness of Windows

Where are the Pliers?

  • December 14, 2009
  • By Emery Fletcher

Sometimes large thoughts pop up from small events. While out for a walk the other day, I saw a neighbor struggling with a half-open garage door, and when I went over to help, she told me the motor had been noisy and finally quit. I could see that the drive arm was connected to the door with a cotter pin, so I said, "If you'll hand me your pliers I can free this up right away."

pliers!
pliers!

 

"We don't have any," she said.

No Pliers?! My astonishment must have shown, because she seemed embarrassed. She told me her husband was not at all mechanically talented and she was even worse. Her husband had told her they were probably safer with no tools in the house than running the risk of trying to fix something themselves.

I'll admit that by the time I turned 70 I'd gotten rid of most of my heavy power tools and I seldom crawl under the sink to fix the plumbing any more, but NO tools, not even pliers? This was an educated, middle-class couple in their 50's, utterly unaware of how their immediate surroundings operated, at the mercy of any handyman who felt like charging them exorbitant rates for trivial repairs.

Three minutes to walk home and back with my pliers, thirty seconds to pry the rusty cotter pin loose and get the door working manually, and a major calamity in their lives was ended. I'm a decent neighbor but not a great one, so I didn't offer to see what was wrong with the motor. But the whole thing got me wondering: are there more of me in the world, or more of them? More people who are careful to keep themselves well-armed, mentally as well as mechanically, for their daily survival in the material world, or are my neighbors in the majority?

 

And then it hit me: what about computers? As little as a year ago, I had no software equivalent of pliers, and like my neighbor I thought I was better off without, lest I break what I meant to fix. Even now I'm scarcely more than an apprentice, but at least I've become as comfortable dealing with a program freeze as with a stuck garage door. It didn't take long, it just took a little effort and the will to learn.

The larger thought came naturally: how much of the market dominance of Windows over Linux is due to people who either cannot or do not want to use pliers, who are afraid that any attempt to alter their machine is doomed to failure?

Photo of pliers taken by Dori. Thank you, Dori!

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