I hear many things as people ask me questions, but there’s one thing that stands out as most frustrating because it’s so needless.
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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
As you might expect, I hear a lot of things as people ask me questions. I
get lots of different scenarios, problems and complaints, as well as excuses
There’s one statement that stands out as the most frustrating. I just shake
my head when I hear it, and it sometimes makes me wonder if there would be any
point in answering whatever question is being asked.
I’m stupid when it comes to
Why does this bother me so much? Because the folks who say it have already
been defeated – by themselves. Their “I can’t” attitude will get in
the way of everything they might try. They’ll stop trying to learn, because
they don’t believe they can. They’ll give up trying to do things, because they
don’t believe that they’re capable.
What a waste. What a terrible waste.
The secret that they won’t accept is simply that it’s likely that it’s
only their attitude that’s stopping them. If that weren’t in the way,
they could learn, and they could do.
Computers can be damned complicated, and yes, they often are very
frustrating, but that’s not your fault.
Sadly, it’s when problems arise I see person after person giving up, and
putting the blame on themselves.
Unfortunately our fast-paced society has set up some really high standards:
if you don’t “get” this stuff instantly, you must be stupid. That couldn’t be
more wrong, particularly when it comes to computers. In fact, there’s a good
chance that the faster you think you’re getting it, the more likely you are to
be getting it wrong.
Stepping back and calmly and patiently taking a little time to understand
what was happening, how things work, and how things interrelate is a worthwhile
investment. Particularly if spending some time understanding some basic
concepts can save you hours of frustration later on. In fact, it’s one of the
reasons I rarely give “just the answer” without a little gentle education as
to why something might be the way it is. That little bit of knowledge might
help you figure out similar situations on your own, and with less frustration,
in the future.
One of the most rewarding comments I get from time to time are from senior
citizens who’ve resolved an issue and have gotten themselves online, perhaps
enabling a new level of communication between the generations.
One of the saddest thoughts are all those out there who think that they’re
“too dumb when it comes to computers” who could have been doing the same if
not for that attitude in the way.
Please, don’t let that be you.
I’d love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11721 in the go
to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me
a comment. While you’re there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and
answers on the site.
Till next time, I’m Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
44 comments on “The most frustrating thing I hear…”
The difference between most computer savvy people and non-savvy people isn’t intelligence or being more logically minded. I got my computer knowledge by not being afraid to say “hmmm… I wonder what happens if I press this button here?”
Back up your important files and don’t be afraid to push buttons to see what they do. It’s the best way to learn.
I have recently hit a series of “no-go”s and head scratcher issues across several computers that I am working on. I have since corrected a couple of the issues and feel that I will correct the others in due course. I had to step away from all for about a day and a half. The point is, stress release and cool down time. I hit a bucket of golf balls as my stress release, but the time away is what gave me “fresh eyes”.
thank you. this is what I have been trying to tell my mom. I will start to say some sort of interesting statement about technology and she won’t bother to listen to the rest of it, as she does a “way over my head” gesture. I think if she just would try to listen, she would understand most of it.
Leo, “I’m stupid when it comes to computers.” And I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I subscribe to your newsleter, I submit questions, I read books and I visit other help sites. I’ve learned a lot and I will continue to learn. But compared to people like you and other frequent contributors, “I’m STILL stupid when it comes to computers.”
OK, maybe “stupid” implies I can’t learn new things and I should call myself “ignorant”. But it’s semantics. It doesn’t mean I have a defeatist attitude or that I’m not willing to learn or try new things. Just wanted to clarify that. :-)
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You’ve nailed it yourself: you are NOT stupid.
You’re right, ignorant is perhaps a more appropriate word, but it has more
negative connotations than I like to hear.
Uneducated, perhaps. There’s simply stuff you don’t know. “Stupid” would be
unable to learn that stuff. You sound both willing and able.
You’re not stupid, and you shouldn’t call yourself that. :-)
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Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)
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I work in the phone tech support department of a computer manufacturer, and I find way too many people worried that they will break the computer by rebooting when it asks or otherwise following legitimate windows prompts. We live in a panic mode society and all the news reports about this and that upcoming crises make some people worried about the consequences of getting in there and learning. For those of you who say “stupid” or “ignorant” computers are tougher than you think as long as you don’t physically damage them in any way.
As a retired teacher of alleged stupid people, I can only agree completely, but noy juust about computers. Everyone is self limiting or self enabling. Even if you decide you’re dumb because some idiot teacher said you were, you decided to agree. Decide to be smart. You will be, beginning with that decision.
I live in a retirement community and most say they’re too old. I’ve helped several through basic things and they’re hooked. I’m a senior citizen who’s addicted to my computer and loves your column.
I have been involved with computers for just shy of one year, after years of “fighting” it, and actually only did so because a friend forced me to take his daughter’s (that she no longer needed and was old, but way too good to simply throw out). I’ve always known that my time would come, so I started following the technology column in my local newspaper, clipping and saving long before I got this one. Then my roommate gave me a book he had, but never read, called “PCs for Dummies”, by Dan Gookin – probably the single most influential and informative event that started my thirst for more knowledge. Your commentary reminded me so much of what the book constantly reiterated: the computer may be a powerful piece of technology, but it’s still just a machine, and one that has limitations set mainly by the user. The author echoed what you said (“Computers can be damned complicated, and yes, they often are very frustrating, but that’s not your fault.”) by reminding all readers that when things go wrong, it’s not always our fault. And as another commenter mentioned, sometimes the best thing to do when a seemingly unsurmountable problem arises, is to just walk away for a while.
I may not be stupid, but sometimes in my zeal to discover and/or try something new, I have done many stupid things. I have learned from every one of them. Like the time I thought that the more anti-malware I installed, the safer I’d be and proceeded to fry the boot sector of my disk, which could only be fixed by a clean reinstall of the OS. Got a good laugh from my tech, but it wasn’t funny. I learned: what a “clean install” actually meant; the importance of backing-up; more is not always better; it’s crucial to know the limitations of the PC, i.e. its resources, especially memory; and that unless I try to use the computer in the bathtub, it’s not life-threatening, no matter what happens.
My friends and family are all amazed at how quickly and how much I’ve learned. Most of them say it’s because I have more time to pursue it, and while this may be partially true, the fact is that I take the time. I subscribe to a trade magazine(as was suggested), I read all kinds of online forums, I get great newsletters like yours and Gizmo Richards’ “TechSupportAlert”, in short, I have become involved. My sister said that I’m now officially a computer geek, because after using her computer, I spent an hour writing out details on how she could improve her system to get the most out of it. (I also showed up with a U3 flashdrive around my neck, customized, of course!) For me, this was a great compliment!
At 52, I thought that I would be too stupid to learn anything about computers and would be “way behind” those who have used them for a while. How pleasant to discover otherwise! I have a knack for this because I embrace change and am willing to change with it. It’s been an incredible adventure so far, and it’s exciting to know that the journey has only just begun. There’s so much more to absorb and knowing that is very humbling.
It’s the contributions of people like you that also help to make this fun! Many thanks for sharing!
I cant? the fact that you try negates that WORD.
I would like a dollar for every mistake I have made, that’s how you learn try not to do it next time,
And I say try as you will do it again at some time in the future.
The funny thing is when you do make the mistake you know as soon as you hit the key, even before it executes your command, oh oh to late.
Remember with computers if any thing can go wrong IT WILL.
Regards to all.
ooooooooohh how i agree with you Leo,unless you are brain dead no one in this world is stupid, but making the effort to learn is the setback. I stared learning the computer when i was 67 and yes it was very hard, but with your tips and my will power i’m getting there.
I run a computer club for elderly people, and spend most of my time telling people that you are perhaps entitled to call yourself stupid if you can count to 467, but don’t understand why the next number is 468. However there is nothing inherently logical about the way computer/human communication has developed, so there is no reason to feel inadequate if you don’t know something about computers. Where possible I start each weekly meeting by telling them the questions I have had to pose to my guru during the previous week. Despite this I am not sure if they believe that I don’t know everything. I haven’t decided if I should admit to them that I have no idea what to do with my network settings when that goes wrong or when I travel.
I believe that people who say this are actually saying something different than what they mean. What they mean is “I’m ignorant about computers” which is an acknowledgment that they don’t know much. I agree that that too could be a negative aspect to their willingness to learn. If people would then make a simple change and say “I’m ignorant about computers, but willing to learn”, then that would represent a complete reversal of attitude from what we started with. John B.
I am going to disagree and claim there are some stupid users. I have been doing PC/network support for 17 years and I can tell you who the stupid users are. They are the ones that call you up to fix their problems and then proceed to tell you how to fix it. When you try to relay to them what the you think should be done they will argue with you till the end of time. You then wonder why they even bothered calling you if they already know how to fix it.
The smart users are the ones that are willing to listen and learn. I wouldn’t know how to do any of the jobs that my clients do so why should my clients think they should know how to do my job.
As I said, I’ve been doing this for 17 years but I still do things like read Leo’s blog because there is always something new to learn in the world of computers. There are ‘NO’ computer experts that know everything there is to know, so don’t worry that you may not know as much as the next guy.
This is great, vvery well said.
I’m going to print these articles
And give them to at least 3 other people I know that feel that way about themselves
Thanks a lot for the fine article, which I showed to my husband (80). He is struggling hard to cope with a computer and his microscope and doing pictures of chemistry stuff. At least, now he smiles when something goes wrong and he wants me to explain, why. AND he thinks that he will be able to remember all the different steps after all. Thanks again, Leo
I share your frustration about individuals who get in this mode of thinking. When someone calls me and says their computer is acting up and I ask what are the messages or what were you doing at the time and they cannot remember one specific detail I want to say “Have you lost your ability to read and write?” But I bite my tongue and ask them to collect some specific information.
I think people get in this mode because they have lost their desire to learn.
I to share your frustration, I’m +60 and started using computers when they required 2 disk to run. But the one thing I’ve learned is that anything I try to do I go at it with the additude that THeir is nothing I can’t learn and do. I’ve got jobs over the years with this type of additude and telling the employer that I can do it, willing to work for them free for 2 weeks to prove it, if I’m wrong then we part friends.
I’m retired now and still tackle everything I do with the same get it done additude. It’s fun to do or learn something new, and the computer and it complexities is(Spelling is one of my BEST)is
You are absolutely RIGHT ON! The pace of technology is not and will never stand still. If we don’t get on-board, we’ll surely be left behind. This is really sad when I hear it daily for gen-y 20 somethings. Constant daily learning is the only way to begin with the end in sight where it is readily accepted that data is knowledge and knowledge is power. Without which we are relegated to mediocrity. Why are many foreign educational institutions turning out students who in turn are sought after by American industry? Because they have embraced the concept of ‘constant learning’ beginning at an early age. Only then can attitudes be molded for success through technology. When we turn out high school graduates that excel in math and science which are significantly less than half the class we will never keep up.
From a 50 something baby boomer with nearly 40 years experience in one the fastest changing industries in the world – telecommunications though now is more accurately called communications in the 21st century!
Really glad to read this. I am 65 yrs old. I meet lots of older people with computer proplems and I manage to help some. For years I have been preaching that SOME older people have a total block on computers – not because they are stupid but because they create a “I don’t udnerstand computers” block and their normal reasoning goes out the window. No matter how simply you explain something, it gives them a head ache and the can’t learn it. I am fed up being told that this concept of a block is nonesense. Very pleased to see someone agree with me.
NOW – how do we tackle this problem?
I find that many computer “professionals” explain computer concepts, not to educate the listener, but to impress them with their vast knowledge. For most non-computer people, all of the concepts they need to know can be expressed in non-technical terms that are more easily understandable. In fact, as a computer professional of over 30 years, I would rather have new concepts explained to me in simple terms.
For example, I had a friend who upon buying her first computer (this was a few years back when floppies were still in vogue), enrolled in an evening computers-for-newbies class. After two sessions, she still had no idea what it meant to format a floppy. She had been bombarded with sectors, tracks, cylinders, clusters, etc and still had no idea what was happening. I gave her the quickie lecture, comparing a floppy with, in turn, an empty lot, a paved lot (with no lines), then a paved lot with painted parking spots. I then equated parking cars with saving files. I was also able to explain, to her satisfaction, the concept of fragmentation. It took less than two minutes.
Good piece Leo,
Some people are just lazy or read Huck Finn and by them saying, I’m stupid or I’m dumb even maybe I’m slow, is their way of suckering caring people into doing the work for them.
So don’t be dismayed by the slacker’s of the world, some don’t even take the ear buds out!
I only do what I can do and if I waited for help, I’d be a long time waiting.
Each day I’m given 24 sheets of paper, I look for something to put on each page.
The 9th page today will have your words of wisdom.
Back in the ’80’s, with my ZX-81 Timex Sinclair: The instruction manual stated on the first page – “Do not be afraid of your computer. You are smarter than your computer. Your parakeet is smarter than your computer”!
At the other end of the spectrum is something I hated to hear while I was working as a phone support tech. Even before I was able to get the mandatory greeting out of my mouth, I’d hear the caller tell me how many years of experience he had and that this stupid program was broken – that’s a polite rephrasing of what was actually said. After letting him vent, I’d ask what was wanted and what had been done to achieve the result, listen a while longer, and then point the caller to something in the Help file or an online article. I’d walk him through the steps if he still insisted it wouldn’t work, and after the desired result occurred, I sometimes got an apology for all the cursing and name-calling in the preceeding part of the call.
Great article. I am 87 years old and a WWII veteran. I bought my first computer in 1992 with Windows 3.1 and telephone access to the net. I went through Prodigy, Compuserve,(pay per minute), metal tape backup systems,Comcast, and now Verizon. Every day I continue to amaze myself. It isn’t always easy. Lately, at my age I tend to panic at a problem. So I walk away and think about it and settle down. Then I try step by step to solve it. If I fail and can still get on the net, I do a Boolean search on Google and generally find an answer. there are great people out there. I do not envision life now without a computer.
Leo, you wrote:
And they are correct for putting the blame on themselves. After all — they gave up!
Problem is, there are way too many “Experts” out there who work hard to make everyone else feel inferior. What makes them “Experts”? Why, themselves, of coures. They SAY so. So many people believe themselves to be experts because they’ve picked up some buzzwords, or have a decent bit of knowledge about one or two aspects of computers.
I know a LOT about computers, and I’m no expert in any form. Worse, computers are changing so fast, and becoming so much more complex, that I’m actually falling behind in my knowledge of them. There are lots of books available, written by people with no more knowledge than I have, or less. There are many GOOD books, too, but sifting through all of them is daunting.
And that’s why many people consider themselves to be “stupid” when it comes to computers. Because they’ve been told that by others who are usually even less knowledgeable. I’ll withhold any comments I might have about one notorious national chain store’s staff of “experts”.
Way, way back when COBOL was just gaining a foothold and real men coded in Assembler Language I managed to land a programming job. I was good at it because I loved to do it. The most valuable lesson I learned, and that I apply still is ‘when something doesn’t work, I probably did something wrong’.
I trained many novice programmers, some with grad degrees. In 30 minutes I knew who the good ones would be. Those who blamed IBM and Bill Gates and cursed their broken computer for their program failures were always more successful with another career.
In general, the notion that a person considers himself beyond hope when solving computer problems may in fact consider himself this way with other problems as well, and sets himself up for failure without realizing it. Some however are simply lazy and collect sympathy for being exactly who they enjoy being. I blush to confess I was plain scared of feeling too inadequate to comprehend such a vast endeavor. I held onto this belief for two years, until I was given a computer in a box fully diassembled. I didn’t even know a Start button from a Motherboard. It seemed overwhelming—a task so gargantuan that surely a Ph.D. would not be sufficient to remedy the situation. So I volunteered to help learn and repair computers for missionaries who did not own a computer in order to communicate with their families from abroad. Little by little I learned, and my friends were not at all happy receiving phone calls at midnight to answer my “stupid” questions. For nearly three years I did not realize I even had a family. Soon thereafter, I began answering other people’s questions. So I went to school and became Microsoft certified and A+ certified.
What I discovered is that knowledge is not something that comes free, but requires diligence, hard work, and patience. I found out I was not stupid—just unwilling. When I discovered that what I wanted wasn’t free, I paid the piper. Now those who are where I was now pay me. A great teacher once told me, “If you want something, you just go get it.”
I’m Dyslexic … at 34 diagnosed … now 57 …
computers have opened up a world of …
yes … the computer is very complex …
so much to read about computer issues …
classes to take and groups to join …
computer/parts/software can be replaced …
qualified technicians are there to help …
enjoy your computer …
be proactive …
there’s always a solution!
I think this stems from when computers were used for “computing” and were the size of a house. You needed to know what you were doing, as one mishap would grind the whole programme to a halt, you would then have to crawl back along the breadcrumb paper trail to find the error.
Nowadays, everyone and their dogs have them, but while Apple seem to be able to send out their computers into the world in a user-friendly format which guides you in without necessarily requiring instructions. Windows is painful if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
I KNOW that you will sometimes have to look things up on any website like this one for a glitch you can’t work out. But for the most part, desktop computers in the past 10 years have relied on you learning how to use them, whereas Apple designed theirs based on how humans work instead.
That is my contribution to the discussion, don’t berate me for defending Apple, I am calling it as I see it…
I have found a great cure for Windows XP. I call it Linux Ubuntu 10.4. I bet you hear that all the time. I actually found that I like both operating systems and run both. Still searching for this one program that is supposed to be Virtual Machine. I think Sun Microsystems called that a Java program. If my reading was correct it would allow you to access your Windows via the Linux Wine application in Linux. It would save rebooting from one operating system to the next. Would you have any advice or input on Virtual Machine as it pertains to running both Windows XP and Linux Ubuntu 10.4?
I agree completely with your observation. I was initially surprised when I returned to the office from a long business travel to find that my old Remington electric typewriter had been replaced with a WORD PROCESSOR. The boss thought that I would howl, and when I didn’t he had the IT guys get me a computer –333mb HP!! Since retiring (now almost age 71) I have been using using my computers and resolving whatever problems have arisen. I long ago concluded that computer systems are logical, so I use logic to figure out the problems. My age group considers me an EXPERT! I’m not, of course, but I am able to communicate how to resolve problems — something many IT folks don’t seem to be able to do well. Great observation!
Well, until a year or two ago I took evening adult classes at our local school in basic computing. I am 65 years old and have been using and fiddling with computers since Sinclair ZX81 days. That is my only qualification. One evening we were starting a new class and a 78 year old sheep farmer walked in the door. He was rough, tough, and had a face like the side of a quarry. I thought he would be almost hopeless as paper and pencil was hi tech to him. His fingers were so gnarled and rough he looked like a sledge hammer trying to put in a carpet tack at first. To my utter astonishment he became my star pupil. His ability to grasp completely new concepts and work with them was amazing. By the time class ended he was chortling at the versatility of using Microsoft Word and being able to move the words and sentences around. I only ever had to explain something to him once, and he was away and running with it. Three weeks later he told me proudly he had just bought a brand new up to the minute computer – his first!
The moral of the story? There’s no such thing as too old!!!
I fully agree. From time to time I voluntarily train people who like to start working on a PC, telling them the very basics of a computer, how to work with Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. I am 64 years of age and I have been working with computers since the intro of the Commodore Vic 20 (1980 or so).
It is also my experience that most elderly people start telling me on beforehand that they probably will not remember all the actions and keystrokes needed to work on a PC. The most common reaction is “I am to old to…”.
My answer is then: It am probably older than you are (not in all cases ;-))and I am also forgetting things. But when I forget it has more to do with the fact that I am not really interested in a particular program or that I am hardly using it.
So my opinion is that once people have actually seen and experienced what they can do with a computer, they will start learning and liking it.
Another common excuse is that they probably don’t need a computer. My answer is then: Yes, you could do without a computer but what are you going to do when you:
– want to get into more contact with your children who live far away
– want to have a downloadable user guide for your newly bought photo camera (or other product)
– don’t want to do your regualar banking busines the old way
– want to have an instant weather forecast
– can only book on-line for that favourite concert, etc. etc.
And please don’t forget – all new things you have to learn can make you feel uncomfortable until the moment you see what you can actually do with your newly acquired knowledge.
Another comment I get is that the relatives (husband, children etc.) of my students do not take sufficient time to teach and explain the behavior of a computer. Besides they are of opinion that the keystrokes they make are to fast for them (and they are probably right). Once the ‘student’ asks to slow down the way they are demonstrating the computer functions the commonly heard aswer is (after a deep sigh…) that they do not understand a thing of computers, making them really feel to old for that !
As a last remark I like to say that another problem lies in the fact that many companies – especially sales companies – are telling that Windows is so easy and that even a kid can learn it. When teaching these people I myself experience more and more that Windows is definitely not that easy. Look what a starter has to understand when they have to find and make subdirectories in Windows Explorer seeing all those internal drives; how to properly burn a CD; how to react on Windows updates and firewall messages, etc. Besides that I often notice that Windows in many cases changes from a native language (Dutch) to English statements which is also not so helpfull for those people making them indeed feeling ‘old’.
The good thing is that finally – after a couple of weeks – they come back and proudly tell me that they made their first e-mail to their grand children or that they found a particular helpfull item in google etc., which clearly shows that they are getting interested in the things you can do with a PC.
As a consultant in computers, one thing I hear all the time is “I don’t know anything about computers but my ” brother|nephew|wife or what have you “really knows about them”. Then I talk to the brother|nephew|wife or what have you and find that they don’t know anything either !!!
The fact is that many overestimate how much others know, that there is an overwhelming amount to be learned, and that most of us don’t know anything compared to the volume of information that exists to be known. However, what I tell people is that computers are here to stay, like the wheel. So, you either get on the bus or are left behind. Once on the bus, look behind not ahead !! If you start learning just one thing about computers each day, when you look “back” at the end of the year you will find you now know 365 things that you did not know before and you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
If you compare yourself to those who have been in the field for decades, you will always find your progress disappointing. But if you concentrate on what you have accomplished since starting, you will always be pleased. (Then again, if you are so pleased that you stop learning one thing a day, look around and perhaps it will be depressing enough to make you go back to the one-a-day formula !!!)
My experience working with computer newbies is that overall intelligence has little to do with how well they take on board basic concepts. Plenty of intelligent people have huge problems with technology, even those who aren’t hampered with poor self-expectations. There really does seem to be a knack, and some people pick it up quickly, while others labour away with no sign of the lightbulb switching on. I’ve learned to stop second-guessing people.
My IQ has been tested to be 90 (that’s on the low end of the “normal” scale) and yet I didnt have any trouble with some computer stuff that people with IQs of 120-or-so had.
Working with computers come fairly easy to me. But my parents couldn’t get it. Whatever it is! I think people are made to feel stupid because working with computers has no logic to it. That is, if you don’t understand the basic concept you won’t ever be able to understand what is happening. When something goes wrong they are so frustrated with what just happened they don’t know where to begin.
Your response opened my eyes to the fact that I often use these negative comments about many issues. This is something I plan to work on stopping. I enjoy getting your newsletter and have learned a lot from you. Thanks
When told “But you’re the expert” when he was unable to answer a query from the audience, Neils Bohr, the famous Danish physicist, responded ” An expert does not necessarily know much about his chosen subject, he just knows some of the worst mistakes not to make!” I guess we are all experts!
One must also consider that not everyone who says “I’m too dumb to…” really means or believes it… sometimes it is just a way (or at least attempt) to stroke the ego of the party they are speaking with… very similar to ye olde “don’t throw me into that briar patch” come-on. It may be misguided, but for some folks habits are strong and powerful…
That said, Leo, recognizing one’s limitations — and where those limitations lie — is the soul of wisdom. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to “stretch” those limitations, carefully, but we certainly shouldn’t be doing things we know we can’t do… right? If you don’t know how to drive, that doesn’t mean you’re “dumb”; but it most certainly does mean you shouldn’t drive until you’ve learned and gotten your license!
sorry, should have looked at what box I was typing in.. anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your insights and technical help as I am wading thru the network jungle trying to secure my computer and put Windows 7 on my iMac. I