Announcing the IMC Computer Help Desk

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The Urbana-Champaign community has had a deficit of
realistic personal computer support options since
Prairienet faded away.
The existing options for computer support in Urbana-
Champaign are limited to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, two or
three local businesses and UIUC’s CITES. These organizations
discriminate through cost and association between
those they will serve and those they won’t. CITES only
serves students, faculty and staffof the UI. Geek Squad’s
services start at exhorbitant prices or require subscriptionsto
service plans. Local business support services may be
less expensive, but they still charge astronomical rates for
what can bequite simple procedures.
Worse, for-profit support services such as Geek Squad
have an interest in misleading users about their computers.
Geek Squad offers ill-defined and suspicious services
such as “Computer Tune-up.” These services are often
nothing more than a collection of easy system maintenance
procedures such as performing updates or uninstalling
unused software. But the real crime of companies
like Geek Squad is their lack of interest in teaching users
how to maintain the machines they use everyday. To the
contrary, Geek Squad’s interests are served when users
remain uncertain, doubtful and fearful when it comes to
issues concerning their computers. Informing and educating
their customer base is actually at odds with their business
In order for communities to survive and thrive in a
world full of technology, they need to rely on a new model
of tech support. This model should focus on democratizing
technology—on disseminating, copying and distributing
tech knowledge among everyday computer users.
This model may start with a central location to help users
with their computers, but cannot end with that single source
of knowledge. Communities must develop a ‘critical mass’ of
tech-knowledge among community members in order to
control their own lives in a technology-dependent world.
In the past few decades, corporate interests have
worked diligently to create a culture of helplessness and
complete dependence on product and service vendors
among users of technology. If you’ve bought a late-model
car, there’s a high likelihood that many repair shops willnot
be able to fix many things that can go wrong with it.
Car manufacturers began using computers in cars decades
ago to improve performance. But in the early 2000s, manufacturers
began using secret codes to lock out technicians
that had not partnered with car dealers from the car’s computer.
This increased the cost to repair many problems
because owners had to go to more expensive dealer repairshops.
But the deeper harm to car owners is that they can
no longer understand every piece of the car. When owners
are prevented from understanding the components that
make technology work, their rights to repair their property
are infringed. Car manufacturers have made concerted
efforts to make the computer systems that make cars runcompletely
unknowable without an unreasonable cost.
The proprietary nature of car computers is similar to the
state of personal computer support today. While car manufacturers
have accomplished their goal of locking owners
and technicians out with secret codes, cartels like the Geek
Squad accomplish this almost entirely by preying on user
fear and by propagating ignorance and misinformation
among users.
The most effective method of combating predatory support
and repair services is through propagating knowledge
and reducing fear of technology among users. The IMC
Computer Help Desk is up to this challenge.
When a user calls, emails or walks-in to the IMC Computer
Help Desk they will not be talked down to or misled.
Further, the IMC Computer Help Desk will not perform
any repair or maintenance for anyone. Instead, the
support technicians at the Help Desk will help users solve
their own problems. The Help Desk can help fix almost
any problem, hardware or software, regardless of platform—
as long as the user of the system is willing to learn
how to maintain their own computer.
Since the mission of the Help Desk is to distribute personal
computer knowledge among the community, we
don’t just fix broken computers. Any user that has any
question about how to complete a task with their computer
can discuss their problem in the friendly, open environment
at the Help Desk. We encourage users of all skill levels
to take advantage of the human knowledge base in the
staff of the Help Desk.
Expert users are invited to come to Help Desk support
hours to help other users, or simply to discuss ideas and projects
with people interested in learning about technology.
The ultimate goal of tech knowledge distribution is to
resist the harmful culture of fear, uncertainty and doubt
that certain technology companies promote among users.
To do this, knowledge distribution organizations must
replace this with a culture that promotes cooperation, collaboration
and knowledge sharing among users. Only
when tech knowledge distribution centers like the IMC
Computer Help Desk begin driving this transition will people
in the Urbana-Champaign community control their
tech media.
The IMC Computer Help Desk holds open hours every
Thursday from 7:00PM to 9:00PM at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center.

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