“On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of
Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures,
will the right answers come out?’ I am not able to rightly apprehend the
kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
— Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
The following is a large collection of stories and anecdotes about clueless
computer users. It’s a baffling phenomenon that in today’s society an
individual, who might in other circumstances be considered smart and wise,
can sit down in front of a computer screen and instantly lose every last
shred of common sense he ever possessed. Complicate this phenomenon with a
case of “computerphobia,” and you end up with tech support personnel having
phone conversations that are funny in retrospect but seem like perfectly
valid motives for wild machine gun shooting sprees at the time.
And yet, amidst the vast, surging quantities of stupidity are
perfectly excusable technological mishaps — but that are amusing nonetheless.
After all, even the best of us engages in a little brainless folly every once
in a while.
Most of these stories are true. Some happened to me personally. Some happened
to friends of mine. Some are considered urban legends, but even most of these
are more likely to have happened in some form or another than not. Skeptics
look at such stories and doubt their truth. But reason, common sense, and
experience tell me that if you sit someone who isn’t computer literate (even a
smart someone) down in front of a computer, you’re bound to accrue
anecdotes no less outrageous than these. You’d be surprised.