Let’s use a methaphor: Charlie and his car

Few weeks ago I posted a rant about stupid people not knowing how to internet. Most of the readers could relate, but some folks criticized me for being elitist. I’m pretty sure these people were just trolling but I guess they were successful enough to make me want to revisit this post.

Let me tell you a little story. I had this friend once, let’s call him Charlie. This of course is not his real name – I just picked it at random. Now the problem with Charlie is that he is not a car person. His knowledge of cars is abysmal to say the least. And yet, he drives the most luxurious and most expensive automobile that he is able to afford. When he picked it, he looked at three things: the brand name, the interior decor and “features”. You know, satellite radio, iPod dock, rear view camera, sun roof, seat warmers, built in sub-woofers etc… He never actually considered the cars specs – the horsepower, the engine size, gas millage and etc… He couldn’t care less about that stuff.

The problem with all these features is that he has no clue on how to use them. For example, his radio is always tuned to some Spanish news station. You know – talk radio, all in Spanish. Charlie however does not understand a lick of Spanish. Someone at some point tuned his radio to that station, and it has been like this ever since then. Charlie not only doesn’t know how to change it, he is terrified of doing so. He is convinced that poorly tuned radio will affect the car’s performance. Yep, he constantly brags about the awesome sound system in his car, and the XM radio which he doesn’t even use. Ever.

After extended argument, I once managed to convince him to let me change it. I set up all the popular music stations on the quick access buttons so that he can switch between them and etc.. Unfortunately the very same day his transmission failed and he had to leave the car in the shop to have it rebuilt. To this day he blames me for that incident. The first thing he made me do after he got the car back was to undo all the changes I did to his radio and bring back the incomprehensible Spanish news radio.

And of course since I “broke his car” in the first place I am now his go-to car guy. He blames me pretty much for everything that goes wrong with the damn thing. All because I touched his radio once. And no amount of explaining will convince him that radio could not possibly affect transmission. To Charlie both are connected. They are in the same car, wired to the same power supply, and etc… He knows there is a connection.

Do you know why the transmission failed though? Because Charlie drives stick. At some point someone told him that automatic transmission is for pussies and he took that advice to heart. He is very proud of the fact he has manual transmission in his car. The only problem is that he does not know how to use it. Charlie confessed to me once that he has no clue why his car has an extra foot pedal. He assumes it is probably one of the advanced features the dealer was telling him about. He tried pressing it once but it didn’t do anything, so he decided he won’t mess with it.

Needless to say, Charlie doesn’t really do any of that fancy reverse driving, parallel parking or what not. He drives forward, in the firs gear. That’s about it. But hey, it works for him – he works 5 minites away from his house, and his co-workers learned the hard way not to park in front of him.

I tried my best to convince Charlie to try automatic transmission at least once, but he managed to convince himself he does not know how to drive one. He knows manual and learning something new is out of the question. I tried to tell him that he wouldn’t have to learn anything new, and his car wouldn’t make those tortured sounds when he puts it into reverse but he didn’t believe me. After all I’m the guy who broke his transmission.

Another thing I broke in Charlies car was his lights. You see, Charlie always leaves the lights on. As you can imagine this drains the battery pretty quickly. Charlie keeps several spares in his house, and one in the trunk at all times. He also has several of those jump start kits lying around. He doesn’t realize this is not normal. I mean, his phone battery lasts about a day or two so he doesn’t see why a car battery wouldn’t get drained just as quickly.

Once turned Charlie’s lights off without knowing his predicament. He couldn’t figure out how to switch them back on again. So for about a month he was driving without his headlights at night and eventually got a ticket. I not only broke his transmission but also made him get a ticket. Fuck.

Despite the fact that I seem to be the source of most of his car problems, he calls me constantly whenever something goes wrong. I continuously tell him to talk to a real mechanic. I know shit about cars, and he knows this. But that’s why he calls me. You see, Charlie hates mechanics. He doesn’t trust them. He calls them “grease apes” (Charlie watched Planet of the Apes once, and learned that the correct term is “Ape”… Yeah, I know… I tried to explain but you know how it is…) and claims they speak moon language and try to rip him off. Compared to him, I’m a fucking expert so he relies on me to fix his day-to-day problems.

For example, at least once a week I get a frantic call from Charlie claiming the car broke in the middle of the street. “Did you put gas in it this week Charlie?” I ask. “Of course I did” he scoffs “I’m not a fucking idiot”. So I grab a tank, fill it up with gas, drive around a bit to find Charlie (cause he can’t give directions for the life of him), fill his tank up and send him on his way. Every fucking week – and sometimes more often.

How would you describe Charlie? Do you think he should get his shit together and learn to use a car like a normal person? Or is that elitist? Would you put up witch Charlies bullshit indefinitely, or would you expect him to eventually become more proficient at using his vehicle? If you were Charlies boss would you consider the fact he once again forgot to fuel his car up a valid excuse for being late? If you were Charlies friend would you continue answering his car related calls day in and day out?

Now consider this: to me, every person who says “You have to bear with me, I’m computer illiterate” is a Charlie. Now, I know – I know. Computers are not cars. But if you drive a car, you should know how to take care of it. Similarly if you use a computer, you should have at least know the bare-bones basics. I don’t expect anyone to be able to write shell scripts, or edit the registry. Just fucking learn to use the software you need for your work.

When you don’t know how to do something, don’t call me, don’t call the IT department. Just figure it out. If you call me, that’s what I’m going to do. I will look through the available toolbars and menus until I see something that might work. If all else fails I will Google “How do I do X in program Y”. Chances are you will find an article or a blog post that explains exactly what you need. That’s how you “learn computers”. If you call me, and I fix it for you while you sip your coffee, stare out the window and day dream you will be computer illiterate for the rest of your life.

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19 Responses to Let’s use a methaphor: Charlie and his car

  1. a really great article!

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  2. Zeke UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Found a cartoon that depicts just the process of solving a computer problem. Thought I would share this with you.

    XKCD Cartoon

    I have to share with you about my mother. She is the most technological challenged person i have met. She is so bad at computers, that she cant even find microsoft word in the start menu…
    I get her calling me over and over cause the computer is broke, when all she did was minimize the window… (where did it go!?)

    i really need to make her go to a retard class for computer challenged people to learn how to do more than type.

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  3. Zeke UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    wow i messed that post up, lol sorry

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  4. Aresio ITALY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    applauses. I completely agree.

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  5. Alex UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    So incredibly spot on.
    Wow. Teach a man tech support and he can surf for a day. Teach a man googling and he can surf till his neighbors cut him off from their wifi.

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  6. Hector SPAIN Google Chrome Linux says:

    LOL.
    I was looking for the xkcd cartoon when I saw Zeke had already linked it.

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  7. Macedoneus Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is probably the best description of willing computer illiteracy I have ever read. This is definitely getting saved!

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  8. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m not surprised IT people are treated as every other repairman. I don’t stay around and watch when the mechanic fixes the car (because he does it the next day/week, and doesn’t want me to watch, but that’s another issue). I expect the same from people whose computers I fix. Although if they stay and watch, I try to teach them a bit, knowing all too well it often falls on deaf ears.

    I think you underestimate people’s searching skills, but overestimate their problem formulating ones. It’s easy to find the answer to “how do I do X with program Y”, but if you neither know what X is called in computer jargon, nor program Y, nor what a program actually is, nor where you’re supposed to type the question, it’s harder to search and find something relevant.

    It doesn’t help that computer classes I attended forgo this part of the learning completely. “Click here to surf Internet”. Don’t bother with browsers, Internet connection status, explaining what Internet is and why the “box” with blinking lights is needed. I myself fell into this trap. It’s as if when teaching people how to drive, you just said “push the pedal and steer the wheel”. It works, but not for long. If this is how people were taught, how are they supposed to know what to search for ?

    It’s a shocker, but learning how to use computers takes time, yet everyone takes it so frivolously. Both teachers, who consider the knowledge obvious, and students, who consider the knowledge useless because it has no direct application. You can’t drive a car properly without knowing why it needs fuels and why there are mirrors on the sides.

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Zeke:

    Heh, I was hoping someone will post the obligatory XKCD here. That’s why I didn’t include it in the post itself. Also it would probably distract from the car metaphor.

    Zel wrote:

    I think you underestimate people’s searching skills, but overestimate their problem formulating ones. It’s easy to find the answer to “how do I do X with program Y”, but if you neither know what X is called in computer jargon, nor program Y, nor what a program actually is, nor where you’re supposed to type the question, it’s harder to search and find something relevant.

    Yeah, that’s that whole problem with Karen and her vocabulary again. Which 80% of time is a problem with reading comprehension. I mean, when you double click on an icon, it usually says what the program is called. A lot of software also have splash screens that telegraph their name.

    Good point about the bare bone basics not being taught in computer classes. I’m guilty of this myself I usually skip the introductory “this is a window, this is a status bar, this is a toolbar, this is the system tray” stuff and jump right into MS Office. I think I will change that, and have a full lab section devoted to bare bone basics in the fall.

    You are absolutely right – a lot of people are vaguely familiar with the concepts but don’t have the vocabulary to google stuff up. :)

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  10. Zack UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    FUCK…..YES! This is getting linked and e-mailed to everyone I know! :)

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  11. katoxidl CZECH REPUBLIC Google Chrome Linux says:

    Well written post I’m glad you revisited the last one. You seem to be much more lenient in Charlie’s case – maybe because you don’t care about cars much? Anyway I really liked your notice about the clutch ;)

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions – I used to be much more uneasy not fixing the obvious mess I see around but it pays off. Some people like it just like that. You only have to wrap your mental model around the fact that Charlie actually likes his spanish radio – set up by his precious car manufacturer (at least in his eyes).

    “I don’t understand it – but the brand impressed me – it must be good. So, don’t change anything – they must have nailed it (dunno why) – you’d only break the precious equilibrium. Of course I won’t touch it either – it’d break… not that it is of a bad quality … but it is too sophisticated – like I won’t repair my antique watches.”

    Some people enhance this, “it was expensive but I don’t understand it – I won’t rather use it so it won’t break. I shouldn’t anyone else use it too for the damn same reason”. But behold there it is.

    This is all too common to be just a stupidity. Maybe there is a long term (mankind long) reason for this to be beneficial. Probably Charlie knows…

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  12. Douglas AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    This metaphor makes perfect sense.

    The funny thing is, I’m a student and I have started learning how to drive recently. I still suck at all the pedal pushing (I am not the most co-ordinated person), but I persist and I ask questions and listen to the answers I’m given, to help perfect my driving skills. I assume most other drivers (with the exception of this Charlie fellow) would do the same.

    Using a computer is quite similar: you’re driving something, you’re just not going anywhere. You have to do things in specific ways to get stuff done. Yet nobody thinks to ask and listen: they get someone else to do it for them.

    And I agree with the point made that you need to have a barebones computer class identifying each part of the computer interface (on the car note, you’re actually tested on what a variety of things do in a car when you go from a Learning Permit to a probationary one here… perhaps they should issue computer licenses? I know I’d get mine in an instant :P )

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  13. Zeke UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Hector:
    Yup, It fits this perfectly. haha

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  14. JKjoker ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    nice article, ahh if i had a cent for every time ive been asked a question that i solved by googling the exact question and clicking the first result …

    the worst one was about a year ago when a fansub site released a rar file with a password you had to get from some math riddle, i looked at it and thought “i can do this … but i be someone has done it for me already”, googled the riddle, got the answer in the second link, spent the next 3 days writing “GOOGLE THE DAMN RIDDLE” in forums/comments … sigh

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  15. Ibrahim Ghazal BAHRAIN Google Chrome Linux says:

    Hopefully, in 50-60 years, most of the computer-illiterate people will be gone. But then, maybe we will be illiterate in some new technology by that time, and have to ask young people (I can’t get the box to read my mind right! I’m afraid it will kill me if I have the wrong thought)

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  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ JKjoker:

    Or this: go to any Torrent site that allows comments. Pick any torrent at random. I guarantee you that one of the first comments in the thread will be “how do i run iso file?”.

    @ Ibrahim Ghazal:

    Fuck that shit! I refuse to be a luser! I just won’t stand for it.

    I mean, I love technology. It is my life long passion. I get excited by new paradigms, new tends, new gadgets. I’m a fucking trans humanist – I want to live forever, I want to have nano-fucking machines in my blood stream, I want to have neural connection to the web. I love science. I love science fiction. Are you saying that one day I will wake up and start being afraid of all that stuff?

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  17. Ron NEW ZEALAND Mozilla Linux says:

    @Zel, that would not be an good enough instruction for someone to “start” driving. They would still be in neuatral (or park), they would still have the handbrake on. So maybe the barrier to incomptent computer usage is much lower then driving. And one of ther reasons we have issues with such users, (that and there is no saftly laws)

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  18. Ron NEW ZEALAND Mozilla Linux says:

    Ibrahim, by that point technology should be much more ingrained, and the generel public, will surly have realised that they must have a degree of prefecinany with technology to be relevent in the workforce.

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  19. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Or this: go to any Torrent site that allows comments. Pick any torrent at random. I guarantee you that one of the first comments in the thread will be “how do i run iso file?”.

    Same goes for “how do I play rar file”

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