Tech-related problems -- we all have them, whether we've been clicking away at a computer for years or if we're new to the "digital revolution."
Last weekend, my very best clients (my parents) flew me out to California for a tech support weekend. We tackled everything from my dad's misbehaving scanner to syncing new email accounts to his BlackBerry.
But mom needed a different kind of help. She had spent years working on computers, mostly database management, email and backups. She had no idea how much fun she could have with what I like to call a starter set of sites -- Google Chrome, Facebook and Pinterest. She also learned how to transfer her photos from her digital camera, edit them for free in Picnik and post to her social sites.
Several tech truths surfaced during our hour-long sessions. (That's about all either of them could handle at a stretch.) First, you can't break the Internet, and it's unlikely that there's anything you can do to your computer or other device that can't be fixed. If the computer freezes, it's not your fault and it's not broken. Turn it off, count to 25 and turn it back on. This works great for routers, phones and tablets too.
If you make a writing mistake, you can usually fix it. You can delete a post on Facebook and repost, you can edit your posts on Google+, but you can't get an email back. My dad had a trick for that: he leaves the "To" field blank until he's had a chance to read what he's written. Once he's satisfied, he adds the recipient's name and hits send.
You may be doing everything right on a site, but it still doesn't work. We ran into that on Facebook when we were posting images. But there's usually a "workaround" -- hit the back button -- one step at a time and look for another path. If it's a bit of broken code, you may be able to avoid it. Like most problems, there's usually more than one solution.
Not everybody has access to free and friendly help. And so far, tech support has been expensive. For instance, cable and Internet provider Cox offers service starting at $100 to set up a home network.
But this week, Virgin Mobile launched Virgin Digital Help. Technicians are available to assist with email, computer viruses and gadget problems and are on call 24 hours a day. Customers can pay by the problem at $30 or by the month at a flat rate of $15.
The service launched in the U.K. a little more than two years ago. Virgin Help has resolved 90 percent of problems on their first try, the company says. "Champs" diagnose issues through live chat and by email. Phone support is available to monthly subscribers. Work on computers is done remotely after customers grant permission. Virgin claims its Champs can tackle any problem on any device.
Who are these digital know-it-alls? I called Chris Blake, the U.S. spokesperson for Virgin Digital, to find out. He said that all Champs have degrees in computer science, a minimum of two years of tech support experience and 10 weeks of in-house training. They are continuously audited as they work with customers. Further, they test new products.
"We're getting ready for the launch of the iPad 3. As soon as they're available, our technicians will get to play with them, so they can anticipate the most likely issues people will have," Blake said.
According to Virgin Digital Help's research, 66 percent of consumers feel they spend too much time either trying to fix tech-related issues themselves or waiting for help. Meanwhile, 24 percent are too overwhelmed to get the issue resolved at all.
Many of the services that Virgin Digital Help features are directed at first-timers, such as people who need help setting up their home wireless router or adding a new email account to their smartphone.
But Blake said it's also good for "gadget gurus" like himself who would rather get a quick fix than struggle with a problem.
"An update comes out, and I'll try to install it only to get "user error" over and over again," he said.
We know what that's like! As always, I encourage you to write me with your questions, but it's good to know that big companies are realizing that for people to get what they want from technology, they sometimes need help.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at email@example.com.