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.

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 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.