things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #35

This TIHATL is a hybrid of two well-trod library tropes: The Customer Who Refuses To Be Helped and Left Behind By Technology. It makes for sad, frustrating interactions and irate customers.

R needs to do something on the internet. He hates the library's computers. He hates Windows 10. He is convinced that our public computers and Windows 10 are the causes of his problems.

He marches triumphantly into the library with a used laptop that he purchased, announcing that, at last, he has a copy of Windows XP. He also has a newly purchased ethernet cable. And he's convinced that this combination -- both, unbeknownst to him, outdated -- will solve his problems.

I explain that we have no way to use the cable, that we can only connect to the internet wirelessly. This infuriates him. "Why not? What kind of crap operation are you running here? What is wrong with this library?"

I try everything I know to get his laptop to pick up the library's free wifi, but it will not. This also infuriates him. Fortunately -- and a bit surprisingly -- he does not blame me. 

After a while I convince him to move to one of our public computers. This also involves getting him to pack up his laptop, his jacket, and all the papers he has strewn across the table. It's like dealing with a 5-year-old, with none of the cute factor.

He sits at the computer for about five seconds before he starts complaining. "Where's the search box on this crappy thing?"

Incidentally, R is hearing-impaired, so we're both shouting. He also has very bad body odour, and I am highly sensitive to smells. He looks disheveled and unkempt. 

I show him how to open a browser and find Google. He tells me what he's looking for, and waits for me. I explain that I won't be doing this for him. He angrily types in his search, bashing the keyboard, then clicks on the first link without looking at it. "What am I supposed to do now? These damn computers! Windows 10 garbage! What kind of library is this, anyway? Why can't I use my laptop! What kind of garbage is this!" and so on.

At one point in his rant R says, "I ran my own business for 40 years! I never had these problems!". This gives some insight into what he may be experiencing. Presumably, he's been competent and independent in the past, and now finds himself helpless and frustrated in a world that has left him behind. Unfortunately, my empathy for him cannot help him. I also wonder if this is actually true.

Also while ranting, R says he wants to buy a typewriter and use Canada Post. He has said this several times at the library. It must be an expression of frustration and a longing for something simpler. He hasn't actually tried to buy a typewriter, or asked us how he might go about that.

When I last saw R, he was using Google and writing down whatever he found, with pen and paper. His handwriting is illegible and his grasp of written English is marginal.

Based on his searches, I think he may be sending some kind of promo or advertising to various companies -- which is even sadder, as I can't imagine what this would look like. 

I really want to help this man. But he is so invested in being right, and so frustrated that he cannot navigate the world, which now feels so foreign to him, that he refuses to be helped. Instead, he wastes money on an outdated laptop, and ends up feeling more aggrieved than when he started.

* * * *

Before writing this post, I checked the things i heard at the library label, to see when I last wrote about this issue. I came up with this similar story, written in March 2020. 


Amy said...

It is sad that someone can be so frustrated and angry that he cannot hear or learn something new. I was thinking of my father when I read this---he was baffled my computer technology and often felt left out or left behind when he couldn't keep up. (My favorite story is when he called me to help him answer an email that asked him to attach a document and wanted to know how to get the document into the machine.) The terminology and the fact that there wasn't one easy series of steps to follow infuriated him, and like your library patron, his usual response was anger, attacking the whole enterprise and anyone trying to help as stupid. And he was a well educated and was never disheveled or unkempt or smelly. He was the smartest person I have ever known, but also one of the angriest.

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. It is definitely sad. Frustrating for both customer and librarian!

On the earlier post (linked at the end of this one) you shared a story about your father, and how you solved an issue for him by surreptitiously purchasing something from Microsoft. It was a brilliant solution, and of course only something a loved-one with resources could provide.

All these things could and should be more accessible -- publicly available rather than doled out by Tech Giant Inc.

impudent strumpet said...

I'm wondering if enabling Cortana would be useful for clients like this. I haven't used it extensively myself, but if it works properly (big if) it might be helpful.

I'm thinking about when I was setting up my current computer (Windows 10, circa 2017) for the very first time, and it started "helpfully" trying to connect to every wifi network it could detect, in alphabetical order. (And I live in a highrise, so there are easily a dozen wifi networks available.) I couldn't figure out how to make it stop, so in a fit of pique I shouted "STOP IT!!!!"

Then Cortana says "Okay, I'll stop!" and stops trying to connect to wifi. I was both terrified and delighted!

Although I also understand if clients are resistant to it, both for privacy reasons and because That's Not How Computers Work. Personally, even though Cortana had JUST solved my problem, the very next thing I did was disable it.

(Also, a contrarian part of my brain wants to know if the library computers are connected by ethernet and, if so, what would happen if someone just unplugged one of them and plugged the ethernet cable into their own computer. Although I do understand that that isn't something you want people doing.)

laura k said...

Library computers all connect to the internet wirelessly. There are no wired options. Only the main circulation computer has an ethernet port.

Is Cortana an option with Windows XP? He's obsessed with using his own laptop and avoiding the library's public computers. We've encouraged him to go back to wherever he bought the used laptop, and speak to them about Wifi capability. As you might imagine, he is not pleased!

johngoldfine said...

This post sort of connects to the one on planned obsolescence. I hated giving up Windows 95; I hated giving up Windows XP; I simply hated Windows Vista; I hated giving up Windows 7 (my wife refuses to upgrade to 10 on her computer, just as I am resisting Windows 11.)

(I suppose it could be argued that those changes in software were upgrades and valuable, not planned obsolescence.)

Okay, but smartphones...too steep a learning curve for this old-timer, dang it. What's wrong with my landline, feel free to call anytime!

laura k said...

This post absolutely connects to planned obsolescence! Our tech world is awash in it. I would say that after a certain point, all computing and telecom "advances" are planned obsolescence.

(John, if it helps at all, Windows 10 or 11 fixed a ton of problems in Windows 7. In this case, I think it's a substantial improvement.)

(Which is no excuse for Microsoft's continual planned obsolescence -- and Apple is even worse.)