Today’s practice: The next time you spend more than 15 minutes struggling with a tech challenge, stop trying to solve it yourself and ask someone for help.
When our home media server froze as we were trying to watch a mother-daughter show tonight, I swung into troubleshooting mode.
“Argh!” my 8-year-old daughter exclaimed. “Why do you have to be Super Mama?”
Super Mama, she told me, is the woman who will never ask for help with a tech problem. And apparently Super Mama has trouble asking for help on other fronts, too, like arts and crafts projects that have gone awry. While I’ve prided myself on passing along a message of self-reliance, my daughter has spent a lot of time waiting for me to fix what someone else could fix much quicker.
Self-reliance is one of the qualities our offline culture likes to lionize, and that our offline culture values at least as dearly. An acronym like RTFM shows that online expectation of DIY self-help just as clearly as sites like Instructables and LMGTFY. And fair enough: if we ask the community to step in every time we’re too lazy to Google the answer, we waste a lot of our collective resources answering the same question for the seventieth time, and wear out the community’s good will.
But the reverse is true, too: in our effort to avoid over-taxing the community’s good will — or at least as often, to avoid the risk of looking foolish — we persist in slamming our heads against a brick wall when a simple request for help could spare us hours, days or weeks of effort. In our fetishization of self-reliance, we fail to tap the wealth of community knowledge and generosity that is the very best part of the web, and of social media in particular.
That failure costs us in more ways than one. Obviously, it’s a poor use of resources: somewhere between the problem that you could resolve in five minutes of Googling, and the problem that consumes three weeks of your time, lies the tipping point where asking for help optimizes the overall distribution of effort. (Yes, saving 3 weeks of your time is worth ten minutes from some greater genius.)
More crucially, this prideful, self-reliant refusal to ask your help denies the community to do what it does best: to help, to offer support, to offer wisdom. It’s through that act that members of community discover what they have to offer, what they know, and what they can expect from other community members in return. Through giving help, the community invents its help.
When you choose self-reliance over the simple act of asking for help, you deprive the community of this chance to knit together. And you deprive the community of whatever knowledge, assistance or resources you might have offered, if you hadn’t spent all those hours banging your head against a wall.
So the next time you’re tempted to be Super Mama (or Super Papa, or Super Human) try asking for help instead. You won’t just be helping yourself — you’ll be helping our worldwide web community.