Computer Illiterates―The New Lepers

Computer Illiterates―The New Lepers

Those who are marginally to completely inept at operating computers have been afforded the same reputation as the guy with the tape on his glasses and high water pants.
OpinionFront Staff
By Pamela Mortimer

We've all heard the jokes. The funniest seem to be about those who are computer illiterate to the nth degree, such as the woman who used her mouse like a sewing machine peddle and couldn't figure out why the computer wouldn't go; or when the tech asked the customer what kind of computer he had, the customer replied, "a white one."

These are not people to be shunned. Made fun of, perhaps, but not shunned. We all have things about which we are ignorant. For example, if I were stranded in deep space and the only way home was to repair the heavily damaged Flux Capacitor Model XL960, I'd be in pretty big trouble. Luckily, that's not likely to happen any time soon.

Many people who haven't had the opportunity to work with computers feel inferior―or worse―stupid. That's unfair. At parties the illiterates are forced to talk to the stone deaf grandfather or pretend to have a deep fascination for finger foods to avoid admitting their lack of knowledge or to be left out of the latest techno buzz. In order to remedy this growing social stigma, computer user wannabes need look no further than the local newspaper or phone book. Schools, organizations, local governments, and community centers nationwide offer low cost or free computer classes for beginners. The participants range greatly in age, so there's no need to feel embarrassed. Another option, if you're up for it, is to take an introductory course online. There are hundreds, if not thousands, offered by distance learning programs and websites such as They're also easy to find. A third option is to visit websites such as to arm yourself with basic terminology before you venture forth.

There is also a faction of frauds who claim to know little to nothing about their computers and will take any opportunity to seek help from anyone stupid enough to take pity on them. Beware―they aren't as illiterate as they seem; they're just lazy. Take my former boss. (Please.) We both had computer training at the same time, a hundred years ago. We learned the same things in the same class. He understood it and was able to perform the functions, including a novel new thing called the Internet. I saw it with my own eyes. It's true that I have a lot more hands-on experience via graphics programs and my insatiable need to e-mail. But somewhere along the way, all the information we'd learned in that class was sucked out of my boss' head and ended up God knows where. I suspect that it's somewhere in Iowa.

Over the next decade, I was called upon to help the boss perform the most basic routine functions. I had to re-teach him how to perform various tasks such as how to send e-mail; how to open Word; and how to send attachments. Every day. In his defense, he did have a great deal of responsibility and things to think about―such as how to make my life completely and utterly miserable or what was on sale at Cabela's.

On the other hand, there are those who think of computer illiterates as the new lepers. The newbies are relegated to a pitiable class lower than TV evangelists. They are to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, a great number of these sadistic techno-snobs work in tech support. The haughtiness of nearly every tech person I've ever encountered is enough to make me want to stick sporks in my eyes before actually picking up the phone to ask for help. I'm pretty computer savvy but every time I call, I get the same treatment as a kindergartner who asks his father how the teacher had babies.

One of the most frustrating things to a less-than-savvy computer user in need is to get stuck with someone on the phone who cannot, even for one second, vary from his written script. In one instance, I had to call the tech support center of a very well-known international company. Before the well-experienced tech could grill me on what was wrong or what I'd done, I laid out the entire scenario, including the ten steps I took to determine and solve the problem. He didn't hear a word. Instead, he insisted on taking me through each step in order to determine the problem. At first I interrupted him and explained, patiently, that I'd already done that step, as well as the other nine steps to follow. Interrupting a tech person is not a good idea. He started from the top of the script and asked me to follow the prescribed steps to determine my problem. He did this THREE TIMES. It was a little frustrating. Oh, and in case you think you have the solution to your frustration, you can forget about ever talking to a supervisor. I don't think they exist.

Not so long ago, I actually called a repair company regarding a tech that had to come out to my house to replace a modem that had been struck by lightning. (It really does happen.) The tech arrived exactly on time and within 5 minutes, had dismantled my computer, replaced the modem, and had the computer put together. I was astonished. A tech person who knew what he was doing AND was nice? I took down his name and made a call to his boss, giving high praise to the tech's efficiency, manner, and know-how. I bet he got fired.