Techies are from Mars, teachies are from Venus

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

Techwit By Jason Ohler

You've probably heard of John Gray's Mars-Venus theory: Men have no feelings and wouldn't know what to do with them if they did, while women have too many feelings and don't know what to do with the ones they have. Or something like that.

Anyway, the result is both try to change each other (impossible) while trying to communicate (often hilarious, especially in sitcoms), while trying to live happily ever after (a Disney movie that rarely plays out in real life). Together, men and women form an interplanetary melting pot whose citizens are lucky if they can execute simple exchanges like "Please pass the salt, too." (Did you say, "Please pass SALT II?")

You'd think Gray was talking about techies (those who fix computers) and teachies (those who try to use them), who also have different planetary ancestries (yet inhabit the same schools and workplaces). Not to stereotype, but techies (people of the propeller beanie and pocket protector) are the ones with thick glasses and no social life, who speak in the tongues of Windows and its many upgrades, and who snicker at the ineptitude of teachies. Teachies, on the other hand are gentle, divinely inspired human beings on a relentless, selfless quest to slay ignorance wherever they find it. Or at least that's how I see it as an objective teachie.

Regardless of their differences, they need each other. If teachies weren't around to break stuff and otherwise act as agent's of Murphy's Law ("if anything can go wrong it will"), what would techies do? And if techies weren't around to reinvent the future when the teachies weren't looking, what would teachies whine about? The bottom line is that they don't communicate but need to if they are to begin to understand their differences.

There are many ways in which the two subspecies miscommunicate. One is "same experience, different interpretations":

Teachie (bug-eyed with panic): My computer exploded!

Techie: What happened?

Teachie: The spell checker didn't recognize my last name! (which happened to be Tulambustradini-Smith).

Then there's "same concept, different words":

Teachie: Friend, lend me your ear!

Techie: Oh, did you mean "non-hostile user, activate your carbon-based aural input device?" Why didn't you just say so!

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There's also "same conversation but at two different levels." Superficially:

Teachie: I need a faster computer.

Techie: I don't have one to give you.

At a far deeper level, what they are really saying is:

Teachie: I am insecure, resent my dependence on you and desperately need you to respect me.

Techie: Have you brought me cookies or pizza lately? I think not...

It gets worse. Recently at a training workshop a techie told a teachie to open Windows, and the teachie refused because it was too cold out. Cruel laughter followed. Tears were shed. I held a healing session to help everyone recover. After a group hug, (techies only participated because I promised them a free mouse pad), one teachie began to emote, demonstrating another kind of miscommunication that I call "same sounds, different words":

Teachie (after a long day of printer malfunctions, and insensitive tech support): Let's go ditch it all!

Techie (ecstatic to hear such inspiration finally coming from a teachie): By all means, let's go digital!

For a fleeting moment both groups felt connected and understood. Honest joy and spontaneous hugging ensued. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they were victims of assumicide - the assumption they were communicating just because they spoke the same language. It's a common problem in cross-cultural communication.

Perhaps one day technology will be so simple - or people will be so technical - that these problems will disappear.

In the meantime, we all need to go the extra mile to communicate, which promises to be a hard drive for all of us. After all, the difference between networking and not working is just one letter.

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