29 Comments

  1. People may not be quite that stupid in general, but I have experienced cases (both at home and at work) that were not all that far away from the mistakes described above.
    P.S. The gold standard for this sort of idiocy is this ancient (25 year old) Dilbert:

  2. Right… because realism and plausibility are the most important requirements in a comic strip….

    …….

    …. okay… I guess I don’t like the kids aren’t that stupid jokes because… well, there isn’t any reason kids *should* know old technology so these exaggerations aren’t making fun of the kids aren’t really fair or funny. But going the other way… well, no, adults aren’t that stupid but this is a humorous and comic absurdity of something that is sort of sometimes true. It seems fair to me.

  3. Adults aren’t that stupid, but I think this falls into acceptable humorous exaggeration. Many situations in comics aren’t realistic.

  4. Yeah, I think I might agree that it’s just exaggerating things to an absurd level.

    That said, just as you might not expect youngsters to know how to use older tech that has fallen out of favour, I think there are good reasons older people may not be as adept with tech:
    1. Nobody else is doing it: For younger people, all their friends are using the tech and frequently. They have to use it to communicate with their peer group and their peers are there to help them learn little tips and tricks. For older people, they may not have many (or any) friends using the tech.

    2. The interface is hostile: I have bad eyes. I always have and they’ve gotten worse with age. Many pieces of tech have interfaces that are very difficult for older people to use. I have the text size on my mobile phone increased, but there are some elements of the user-interface or within certain apps which ignore my preferences where the text is uncomfortably small. For my wife, who has worse vision, she actively struggles with it. Some interfaces require fine motor control to use, placing buttons (or touch-screen “buttons”) close together or requiring “multi-touch” actions in quick succession and that can be difficult for people with disabilities or even just a bit of tremor. Even on the computer, how many websites have tiny text on low-contrast backgrounds. Like 8-point black text on red background, for example. Obviously designed by a 23-year old with great eyes on a 27-inch screen.

    3.There’s no reason for them to use the tech: A lot of the stuff that’s available through these devices might just be stuff that doesn’t appeal to these older people. I don’t know how to use Tinder, for example, because I have no need for it (or so my wife has told me). Older people may prefer to go shopping in local stores than shop on line because it gets them out of the house. I’m not a retiree, but I’ve been 100% working from home for the last couple of years. Under normal circumstances, I go out every day and walk around just to use up energy and see other faces. For a retiree, a trip to the shops may be good for the spirit and they have the time. It may also be a form of exercise. My wife used to go to Costco every week to do some shopping, but also just to walk up and down every aisle to get some exercise. It might not seem like much, but for someone with mobility issues, it’s safe, flat, and comfortable. Trips out to other malls provide similar exercise. So going out gives them additional benefits.

    That said, part of the “older people are bad with technology” does come down to attitude. I worked with a lady (since retired), who was terrified of doing anything wrong on the computer (she sat next to me, so saw it first hand). She was always “Oh no! SingaporeBill, what do I do now? It won’t work.” I’d ask “Did you try clicking that thing or pushing that button” and she’d look terrified at the suggestion. I kept explaining that she couldn’t break anything, nothing would explode and nobody would die if she tried something on the computer and it didn’t work. She never changed though. Very nice lady, but very fearful.

  5. I’m okay with some characters being ignorant in humorous ways, but Walt is a doctor. And Mrs. Olson is a teacher. It’s out of character for either of them to be portrayed as morons.

  6. Oh, you might be surprised. I spent almost forty years as an academic librarian, and I can assure you that I was and am intimidated and moronic around all sorts of tech, including a lot that a lof of my fellow geezers take in stride.

  7. I’m 68, but I’m a computer scientist and I do IT support for a writers’ group I’m involved with – and I’m young for them. In my experience the big problem for older people is that they are intimidated by the technology – no doubt thanks to things like this strip – and don’t even try. Once they do try, they do fine.
    Heck, I taught my father-in-law BASIC programming when he was over 65.
    Computers and phones are a lot easier to use than they used to be.

  8. It’s understandable that even smart young people don’t know about old people things, and even smart old people don’t know about young people things. It’s kosher to make humorous observations about these things, or exaggerate them for comic effect. But it’s mean (and also incorrect) to equate these things with stupidity. I read this comic as the former.

    And yeah, a lot of people (both young and old) don’t understand that this is mostly what’s involved with being “good at computers”:

  9. In my experience, computers are more likely to get tired of life, and just not wake up one morning. That’s why I have a replacement (almost wrote “new” but it ain’t that) motherboard winging its way towards me. And a tube of thermal compound.

  10. My father was an airline pilot, retiring on Boeing 707s (in 1974) and was also a keen photographer (who once built his own wooden enlarger in the 1930s) and had a Bolex H16 16mm cine camera he operated perfectly competently in the 1960s. However, computers rather foxed him and he never bothered with the internet (and died in 2004). My mother did try with the internet and email for a bit, but after a few years she couldn’t take in anything more. She is now 93 and with a touch of Alzheimer’s and sometimes she mixes up the remote and the phone (a portable landline phone with buttons, not a shiny smartphone).

  11. From GIMP documentation:

    If you aren’t sure whether you can do this, just try it. The worst thing that can happen is that your computer could explode.

  12. When we first got computers at MegaCorp, they were IBM XTs. There were a few communal ones. A problem that happened early on was that people would try to format a diskette but instead format the default (C:) drive.

  13. Walt is a dentist. An orthodontist, to be more specific. He did Pierce’s braces.

    Walt’s technological deficiencies are certainly exaggerated, and also they relate more to his former generation (early boomer) than his current retconned Gen-X-ness.

  14. It’s an XKCD and has hovertext of: “‘Hey Megan, it’s your father. How do I print out a flowchart?'”

  15. There were more than enough people who couldn’t figure out how to set the time on their VCR. This is at least somewhat more complicated. Any one of the first three issues isn’t entirely implausible (especially the earbuds). The only really silly thing is mixing up his phone with the remote.

  16. I’m a public librarian. I teach computer classes. This comic is distressingly close to reality for me. (I’m not shaming anyone, though — we all have to learn, none of us are born knowing how technology works.)

  17. Back when I started using computers, you could definitely damage them by doing the wrong thing. (Such as pulling the Emergency Stop knob on an IBM 360 when there was no emergency — that knob was STRICTLY for times when NOT pulling the knob would damage the computer more than pulling the knob.)

    Then computers got so that you couldn’t damage them no matter where you clicked or poked.

    And now we’re back to where you can damage your computer by clicking on something in an email message.

  18. One thing about mobile system-UIs that I almost love on my Android phone and detest on IOS on my iPad-mini, is the options for editing some minor typing error or change-of-mind earlier in your typed virtual-keyboard text, without just backspacing all the way there and redoing the input that followed.

    On Android, I installed highly customizable replacement virtual keyboards; and besides a variety of nifty fancy features, many of them allow me to activate ARROW KEYS that function like the real keys on a hardware keyboard. With that, it’s really easy to go left some half-dozen spaces and insert the letter you missed, or backspace over a single errant one. Easy peasey!

    On the iPad, though there are replacement virtual keyboards that can be installed, they are comparatively difficult to manage, are often the wrong size, or do not hold customizations very reliably. Lacking the arrow keys, either you just backspace and retype, or use the Apple-approved method. This means holding your fingertip at the current point of the cursor **forever** until it turns into a floating magnifier bubble, which you have to pull back to the site of the thing you want to correct, and position sooo slowly and carefully using a sort of vernier within the magnifier. Then reposition to the keyboard area to do the actual corrective typing. (With the arrow keys, they are in the keyboard, not the input text area, so there is less shifting.)

  19. Mark in Boston reminded me of a feature on the first computerized radio automation system I ever worked with. It was a red button marked PANIC. When you pushed it, the untenable thing that was happening would abruptly cease, and the system would quietly move on to the next event in its little (4KB, IIRC) core memory.

    Sometimes that button was really useful. The station was located in the middle of a large open area. When thunderstorms came to pay us a visit, it wasn’t unusual for lightning to strike the transmitting tower. When it did, the automation would immediately start every audio source and put them all on the air at the same time. The effect was a bit like Charles Ives on steroids.

    I think every computer should have a panic button. Mine has a reset button, but it’s just not the same.

  20. Mitch: Steve and Jony, were they still at Apple, would explain to you that it is entirely your fault for mistyping in the first place! You’ll find that if you would just be more in the moment and stop worrying about what is past, a truer, more authentic communication will be achieved than even you yourself might be aware of. Cf.: either Arthur Dent and the Ultimate Question, or Sigmund Freud, take your pick.

  21. There’s a music sequencer program that has a PANIC button. A potential problem with MIDI, the protocol that allows remote control of a music synthesizer, is that Note On and Note Off are separate messages, and if Note Off is missed the note stays on forever. Pressing the PANIC button, which in this program instead of a button marked “Panic” is a miniature reproduction of Munch’s “The Scream”, sends out an All Notes Off on all channels.

  22. Thanks jajizi, but I am aware of that method, and dislike it almost as much as the floaty magnifying bubble. I thought I mentioned it in my earlier rant, but see I didn’t get to it! The problems it shares with the bubble are: there is a pause between starting top invoke it and when it is available (your “touch and hold”); and it still requires fine motor control and acute eyesight. If I want to back up (non-erasing) some five or six places, just banging on that left arrow moves the insertion point *immediately* , and I can count out the steps without accelerating and decelerating. I don’t have to judge where to stop sliding my finger — I just go for the one spot and tap-tap-tap.

  23. @ jajizi – Thanks for the tip! I don’t think I’ll use it that often, but it’s really cool.

  24. Four unrelated points –

    1 – My mom used a desktop computer at work as an accountant (what else) with no problem – in her 60s and 70s and she was born in 1929 so it is not that she had been using one when younger as I, now in my 60s, did. When she retired my BIL gave her one of his old computers to use and she had no problem. A few years down the line I upgraded her with my old desktop computers – she used it – no problem. My sister decided to upgrade her and her bought her an android based tablet computer. She could never get the hang of it. I would send her email – she never received them – “It only gets email once a month” (Per my BIL when he would go to deal with it – she would never delete anything from the tablet and it being a cheap one, it did not have much memory.) It would be nice if she was still using a computer of her own right now as she does not hear the phone ring in her assisted living apartment and when I tried to call to wish her a happy 91st birthday – while the place is on lock down and they are not allowed out of their apartments for health reasons in this time of Covid-19 – she did not answer and won’t play back messages, so I had to wait for her to call Robert for his birthday – 4 days later to wish her a happy birthday. If she still had a computer to use I could have sent her an email. (Mail would not work as she would have to leave her apartment and go to her mailbox downstairs to get it.)

    2- In college Robert used to copy my computer programming homework – now I am the old lady needing help from him to do things – next thing he needs to do is set up my Win 10 laptop so the number pad stays locked into numbers and does not cause the pointer to jump around the screen when I forget to turn it on when I turn on the computer or whatever it makes it change back to the arrows while I am using the computer.

    3 – On a Sunday in late March I had a telephone call from a member of the Metro region of my embroidery guild. She needed a list of the members and their email addresses (something which region already had anyway) as the region director was setting up for the chapters to have meetings on Zoom. I had never heard of same before. She explained what is was when I asked and said she hoped they would see me at the meeting. I told her probably not as I don’t have camera, microphone or speakers on my computer (and if I tried it on this laptop they would hear a sailor swearing). She insisted that none of those items are needed. “Do the other people see you” “Yes” “How do they see you if you do not have a camera?” “Do you hear people talking?” “Yes,” “How do they do that without a microphone and how would you hear them without speakers?” Answer to all – “I don’t know – you just do.” Since then I hear about Zoom constantly. And apparently the meeting went well, though Chapter Pres is not sure if the May meeting next will on it again or we will skip the meeting.

    4 – My sister-in-law (who I have mentioned before) is in her late 50s. She cannot use a computer. She takes lots of photographs (excessively) with her camera and has drawers full of SD cards with photos on them. At Christmas a couple of years she asked Robert – who keeps telling her to put them on her computer (she has one, but doesn’t use it) how she could transfer the photos to her computer. He was showing her how to copy the photos. Her 2 daughters were in the room – then one was 8 and the other was 16. He said to the older one – why don’t you help your mom how to copy the photos – “I don’t know how to copy them, I don’t use a computer.” The younger one plays handheld computer games, but doesn’t use a computer either.

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