IT Policies

The Flashing Zero Generation


As I passed through this veil of tears that is IT support I have experienced most of the types of caller, I have even created a taxonomic classification system for user types which has been the subject of a previous article.

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/5100-1035_11-1034684.html

I have to add another type of person to this listing, a social group that has been called the flashing zero generation, noted by the fact that they have VCRs which have never had the clock set on them. Instead of displaying the time they display

00:00 which flashes constantly.

It is a group that is often referred to erroneously as “Silver Surfers” but this is not a true reflection of their talents as Flashing Zeros can be any age and technically savvy people can often be very advanced in years.

Take my late father: at the age of 70 he purchased his first PC and would frequently call me for advice as he learned how to use it.

The calls, to begin with, went a bit like this:

“Hello, it’s me again, how do I get this spell checker to work?”

“There’s three ways, press F7, click on the ABC icon or choose Tools then Spelling and Grammar.”

“Oh Yes, thanks, bye!”

Things got a little more complicated:

“I’m doing a spreadsheet to keep track of the car expenses; can I get it to add up all the mileage against the amount of fuel used so that it will calculate the average consumption for the month?”

These calls took a little longer as we got into the intricacies of calculations.

Towards the end of his life they got a bit beyond me:

“Hello, I’m trying to declare a set of variables but whenever I try it comes up with a compiler error…”

“Er, I’ll call you back…”

The tables have turned, my mother, is determined to get to grips with the World Wide Web and email in particular and, to be honest, she is a hopeless case.

The calls are a little more frustrating:

“Hello Jeff, It won’t work.”

“What won’t work?”

“The Computer”

“What are you trying to do?”

“I’m trying to use the computer, of course.”

Yes, but what in particular?”

“Well, Christine from up the road had a parking ticket and there she thought that she should check that it was right and she knew that I had the internet at home so she came to look it up.”

“So you’re trying to search the net for laws about parking?”

“No, we’re looking for cake recipes, we got bored with the law, It kept on coming up with the Yahoo page and stuff about Wisconsin, whatever that is.”

“It’s a place in America; you would need to specify England in the search.”

“I didn’t do a search, I went into Google… It came up with an error message”

“What did it say?”

“Oh, I don’t know, something about Illegal Operations. I’ve never done anything illegal in my life!”

“OK, usually trying again will do.”

“Yes, but whenever I do it keeps coming up with a page called Yahoo.”

“That’s your homepage.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why is it my home page?”

“I don’t know, it just is, you can make any page your home page.”

“That’s just daft! Anyway, how can I tell if I am connected to the Interweb thingy?”

You get the idea, by the time I have been doing this for an hour I am ready to scream. We don’t often get my mum calling the real helpdesk and if we did we would speak to the department manager concerned and insist on an immediate training course.

I suppose that what I am trying to say is that it isn’t an age thing; it is a matter of having an open receptive mind. There is one of those Helpdesk Urban Myths which goes along the lines of:

Helpdesk: “Do you still have the boxes the computer came in?”

Caller: “Yes.”

Helpdesk: “Unplug the computer, pack it into the boxes and take it back to the shop.”

Caller: “Why? What should I tell them?”

Helpdesk: “Tell them you are too F***ing stupid to own a computer.”

Whilst I would never include my mother in that category I can see where that legendary helpdesker was coming from.

I am very keen to compile an archive of such impossible people to deal with and would like to hear of any such support nightmares, the only proviso being that the stories must be from your own personal experience.

14 comments
GoodOh
GoodOh

As your own example shows, as several of the responses show and as my own experience shows this is nothing to do with age. Therefore it is the 'Flashing Zero Type' NOT '... Generation'. It's more than that too. It's situational. I work with people in their twenties who have to have their hand held every time (even daily) to attach a file to an email but can send photos with phones with terrible UIs without thinking about it. They know their friends expect them to do the phone thing so they just do it. The email stuff is 'OK' to be bad at so they convince themselves they can allow themselves to be hopeless at it. And I work with people in their 50s who can program in Ruby on Rails like demons (so not in anyway stuck in 1970s thinking) but happily declare that they are unable to send an SMS text message on their mobiles and their kids have to show them how each time. So, in my experience, it's not a generation and it's not even really a type, it's a behaviour, or even worse, a deliberate choice to be hopeless. [EDIT: Replace default Title]

Jason_Netherland
Jason_Netherland

Ok. I work for a Helpdesk for a casino company. We have several generic profiles for employees to use such as CASINO, CLUB, CAGE, and PIT. More often than not I get calls from people saying they cannot sign in and also more often than not the problem is someone couldn't spell casino correctly twice in a row and have disabled the profile. So when people tell their stories of the not so computer savvy I always think to myself, I work with people who can't spell pit twice in a row and they have 3 chances to get it.

SJMcD
SJMcD

I once had a guy at work, who had forgotten his password only a day after he had changed it. He was not grey-haired, but in his twenties.

ken
ken

Oh gosh, I would have laughed my ass off while reading this except the pain of helping my OWN mother and father with their computers is too severe to allow jocularity! Once the trauma of helping my father (only 4 days ago) with his latest problem fades I'll post the story here.

jhsierra3
jhsierra3

Having supported 2 Grandmothers in Tech support, I truly understand. Just getting them to follow written down steps to connect by dial up and then do email were a challange. I had never thought of calling them the flashing zero generation, but it fits perfectly. I don't know how many homes I have visited and seen the flashing zeros. I usally just go over and program whatever it is. Most excusses I hear are it is to difficult to remember or to hard to read the fine print on the directions. I even see this at work on the microwave after a power outage. Some is laziness, but a lot is fear of the unknown.

cyber_jimpatrick
cyber_jimpatrick

Simply brilliant, pulitzer prize material, I laughed til I cried.

graham.tebby
graham.tebby

I think the point, as once made by Scott Adams, is that we are all that stupid, it just depends on the context.

Menopausal
Menopausal

I got my then-74 year old mom a computer, and my brother was horrified. "I'm not supporting her, YOU are!" he yelled at me. First try: "I'm trying to get information on Medicare part D. I typed in medicare.gov and there were like 5 things I could do." "What were the choices?" "Well, none of them seemed right, then I noticed that it said it was Google's cachet copy." "Cache, Mom, not cachet." I realize she is going to Google and typing in the web address in the search field. I describe how to find the address bar. Antics and hilarity ensue. Next day: "I went to the site, and I could see what I wanted to do, but I couldn't do it." "What does that mean?" "Well it said to look at your options, but I couldn't see any options." "It.. wasn't... BLUE and UNDERLINED, was it?" "Yes, it was! How did you know?" (I was gentle, trust me.) 1 Month later, many calls like the above later: "I need help. This stupid computer..." "Mom, you have just graduated!" "What?" "You blamed the computer for being stupid, instead of yourself." 2 Years later: "I need help. I can't print." "Okay, let's start with the easy stuff, is it plugged in?" "Yes, it is, and I went to my Printers folder and it said the queue was clear..." I was speechless. I'm thinking of getting her an IPod.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Stupidity & ignorance are oblivious to age, gender, etchnicity and every other irrelevant characteristic of happenstance. It's all a matter of choice.

C-3PO
C-3PO

Wes Borg calls them "12 O'Clock Flashers" - I think that's a more sexy name... (by the way, this is totally PG, there is no sex in the video and it is all clean... the name is about as riske as it gets...) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diWiXvvR8HA The YouTube Video is hilarious... especially when you have been there and done that.

MWatch
MWatch

Anyone that reads techrepublic will most likely not have difficulty with the VCR. Mine has started flashing zero only in the last year. Cause - A DVR that has replaced the recording function of the VCR. That alone would not normally be sufficient to cause constant flashing, the DVR must be rebooted 3 to 4 times each week, it does not have a power switch, the plug in the back of the DVR is inaccessible so I use the switch on the surge suppressor, all devices loose power, VCR blinks zero and I plain don't have the patients to reset the VCR each time the DVR HANGS. Poorly implemented technology spreads its wrath in many directions.

Absolutely
Absolutely

None of these examples so far comes close to the horror of me in the kitchen. "OK, the box is open. Now what?"

rob.easton
rob.easton

I am very patient at work, but when, at work, my wife calls and says, "the thing won't work," and it's somehow MY fault, I just have a conniption. She points out I would be fired for this attitude at work. I better get it together at home before I get put on the husband-oriented corrective action plan.

GoodOh
GoodOh

So you encounter the same problem several times a week and address it with a solution which is just 'good enough' and suffer the consequences. How about inserting a switch between the surge suppressor and the DVR to give you an easy way to reset it without the painful consequences? What you are describing is an advanced version of flashing zeros as per the original description.

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