Just give me a fish

“It’s great to get a new phone. Some people don’t bother and say that the one they have is fine and still works and so don’t upgrade – but that’s not fun is it?!? It’s a free upgrade!” – Simon, my Aussie friend.

So, I was feeling pretty chuffed with my new BlackBerry, even though I got it just a week before BlackBerrys (BlackBerries?) worldwide decided to take a sabbatical. Ok, so I did have to turn it off whenever I put it in my handbag until someone showed me how to lock the handset, but other than that I was enjoying it and feeling pretty savvy at getting my email accounts synched to it. My yahoo accounts that is, but not my university one. For some reason, that one wasn’t connecting properly.

No worries, I thought to myself, I’ll go to the university’s IT help desk. ‘IT Helpdesk’. What does that imply? Friendly people who understand IT and can help with it? Right? Well, sort of. But it kind of depends on the kind of help you want.

At the helpdesk, I shared my predicament, BlackBerry in hand. Mr IT swivelled his computer screen round to face me, navigated to the IT section of the university’s website, clicked on the link to ‘setting up mobile equipment’ and scrolled down to the BlackBerry section. All in the time he could have just taken my BlackBerry from me, pressed a couple of buttons and got it sorted out. But no, he slowly trawled around the website then told me to go and do likewise.

I found myself pulling the same face that I have seen countless times on the teenagers who’d come into my office for help filling in a form. As they produced the form to be filled in, I’d cheerfully hand them a pen and work through it with them while they painstakingly completed it in what was often big loopy children’s handwriting. Either complaining as they went or simply sighing with resignation and asking me questions… “Emily, how do you spell Afghanistan?” “What it means, educational experience?” Of course I knew that what they really wanted was for me to do it for them. But I’d act in accordance with my perceptions of their best interests, determined to make it a learning exercise for them. Giving them the skills they’d need to manage it again in the future.

Back to the IT helpdesk, I felt my features communicate the same sense of no-leg-to-stand-on irritation and despair.  I’m not sure whether they were trying to help me to help myself or whether they simply felt safer in the realm of electronic communication than they did in the area of face-to-face interaction. Or perhaps they feared that if they made it easy for me, I’d keep coming back for their assistance, never learning to stand on my own two feet. But frankly, in this instance, I just wanted them to do it for me. I didn’t want a fishing rod, I wanted a fish.

Annoyed but resigned, I went straight to a computer and sorted it out before I forgot what they told me, and – I confess – I did feel a teeny sense of satisfaction at overcoming a technological hurdle by myself.

That said, I came away from the experience wondering if I actually needed this masters in development studies to unpack my questions about agency and empowerment.

I think I understand many of the issues raised just by being a girl who sometimes needs a geek.



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