Saturday, March 7, 2015

Being A Technoblaster

During the dozen years I taught technology classes I was probably less-than-friendly to people with no technology skills. In a program (Recording Engineering) that required fairly extensive technical skills it wasn’t at all unusual to find that my students had absolutely no familiarity with technology beyond playing with their cell phones or video games. That crowd was irritating and impossible to educate, but they didn’t bother me until student “retention” became such a big deal that I couldn’t purge their lame asses from my classes. There was another much smaller category of student, however, that caused me a lot more grief. For the purposes of this essay, I’m going to call them “technoblasters.”

Too often my technoblasters were sincere kids who really wanted to do well. They studied, did their homework, did fine to really well on tests, and they paid attention in class or during labs. They participated. They did everything I asked them to do and, sometimes, more. However, every time they touched a piece of technology, they broke it. One irritatingly consistent aspect to their destructiveness was that they always used the passive voice when they admitted breaking something, “The knob/switch/control or microphone/stand/speaker broke.” Or “I didn’t do anything and the computer quit working.” They never damaged anything themselves. It was always the passive tool that broke itself.

Rarely, I would be on site when one of these inanimate objects committed suicide, but when I was on-site it was pretty obvious what happened. Not only did my technoblasters break the equipment, they did it brutally. They would tighten a mic stand so hard they stripped the grip or handle. They would twist a knob until the pot broke or the set screw on the knob started cutting a groove in the shaft or they’d start spinning the control behind the panel until it ripped out the wires or destroyed the circuit board. One kid so consistently insisted on plugging Aux outputs into headphone amp outputs or main buss or group buss outputs that he earned the nickname “Smokey.” He failed his first semester record laboratory, twice, because he fried the console early in the test. The second time he took out the +15V power supply and set final exam testing back a day for several classes.

One of many things all of these kids have in common is a disconnect between their perception of how they use technology and reality. They honestly think they are paying attention to the equipment, treating their tools with respect, and being careful. In fact, they are distracted and on a completely different plane than the work they imagine they are doing. As sad as this is to admit, my wife is a technoblaster. So, I’ve had a front row seat and backstage pass to observing the life of a technoblaster for almost 50 years. Like these kids, when her tools and technology fail her she always describes the events leading to the moment-of-breakage passively. Exactly like these kids, she is always distracted and mostly unaware of her actions and attitude. I can’t think of a single time when she has wreaked some piece of equipment or broken a tool when she could accurately recount the steps she took before the equipment failed.

Eventually, I suspect my ex-students will develop an attitude like my wife’s. She is a firm believer that technology hates her and she hates it right back. She has constructed a mental suit of armor that allows her to ignore her own complicity in equipment failure while assigning the blame to a personal feud between her and the offending technology. One of the tactics I used to overcome this attitude in work situations, including a few “technology instructors” and engineers, has been to require a detailed description of the equipment failure before I accept the task of fixing it or before I’d allow one of my employees to fix it. If “it’s broke” is all I get, I put that job at the back of the schedule so we can do work that is properly defined. Often, “it’s broke” is a user error and will magically go away if I ignore it long enough. If it’s real, repeating the instruction that the failure mode and mechanism must be described before a repair can take place will often force the user to retrace his/her steps and learn something about how the failure occurred.

Of course, none of that works with my wife. If I waited for her to properly define one equipment breakdown before I fixed it, nothing in our household would work because she will just move on to the next victim. And, of course, I’ve been trained by 50 years of marriage to just follow her around putting out fires.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.