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The Gimme Generation

By judges1617 in Op-Ed
Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 08:55:25 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

It seems like everywhere I go in this day and age, I run into what I like to call affectionately, "the gimme people". When I go to the bookstore to get a new book on my chosen computer system, I am assaulted by "Dummies" books. When I talk to people who like to consider themselves "technologically aware," up to date on current trends, and like to try to predict what technology will do for people in future, I find them to be ignorant and generally stupid. Maybe I'm just stupid, but then again I only spend 70-100 hours a week living, breathing and enjoying technology.

These gimme people, I have found want and think that technology is going to change every single aspects of their lives. I run a small, computer related business and therefore have the luck of being invited to numerous technology meetings in my area. Most of the people that attend these meetings are older business people, without much "real" computer experience (IMHO). They envision this Utopian society where everyone is able to use a computer as well as somebody who spends every waking minute using a computer.

They also want to believe that the Internet is going revolutionize their businesses as they know them. Meaning, that they won't even need a traditional store front and that it will be the greatest thing. About the only thing I shop for online is computer supplies and books. It offends me that online stores such as Amazon.com and Yahoo, will store my preferences and present me with what they think I want, or present me with the choices others have made based on the fact that they purchased the same book as myself.

I don't think I will ever buy anything online except for my books and computer parts. That's the last thing I want..."Mr. Jones, the last 5 times you ordered from our site, you also purchased: 5 cartons of cigarettes, 2 cases of beer, and `Busty Beauties'. Would you like for us to add them to your order today?" . . . ummmm, that's okay. Thanks, I needed to be reminded that I'm an alcoholic that smokes too much and enjoys porn magazines. Maybe some people out there wouldn't mind that, but I do.

How does this apply to the gimme people? Well, I'm not exactly sure anymore . . . Oh yeah, I remember, this the "great world" that they envision. Powered by technology and required use by the masses. These gimme people also think that everyone should have access to, and be taught to use computers at a highly advanced level. And they want it NOW! I've learned that this is the reason we have books titled "Yahoo! for Dummies" and "AOL for Dummies". They want it and they don't want to actually learn anything in the process. How much simplier can they make AOL and Yahoo for the common person? I think they are extremely simple as they are.

If a lot of these people would read what is on the screen, the help sections, and everything else these sites provide, they could save themselves a few dollars on that book that they will probably never read anyways. I worked hard for the knoweledge I've gained in the last 12 years and I'm insulted that these people think they can get me to tell them everything I know in a 5 minute period. Then have the nerve to say I'm misinformed!

Hello! Most of these people don't read the newspaper, let alone all the online journals, newsgroups, and technical manuals that I spend hours reading everyday. But I'm probably just a little snot nosed kid, who is the only member of the gimme generation. Now stop asking dumb questions, and GIMME some peace and quiet.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Help book of choice?
o "Dummies" 3%
o "SAMS" 3%
o "Teach yourself visually" 0%
o man pages 38%
o HOW-TOs 26%
o What's a book? 5%
o I just hack my way through 22%

Votes: 148
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Yahoo
o Also by judges1617

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The Gimme Generation | 33 comments (20 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
I don't agree... (3.12 / 8) (#2)
by tzanger on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 04:21:56 PM EST

... with the author's sentiments. I often find out about different books by the metacontent that amazon spews at me (other books people bought who also bought 'x'), I like it when I can say "Yeah gimme the usual, Sam." It's got to be seamless and transparent though; I don't want to go through a whole rigamarole just to get something different.

Saved preferences are good in my opinion; they save me energy and if the algorithm is good it even ends up being a bonus.

I'm glad someone's noticing besides me. (3.80 / 5) (#4)
by Inoshiro on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 04:24:22 PM EST

A lot of people want a lot of things, but at the same time they don't want to actually do anything to get these things. This inherent lazyness is rampant in people who lack self discipline, and the "Breathing for Dummies" and "Absolute beginners guide to smashing your forehead into concrete" books just prey on this.

Of course, this doesn't stop them. The other day I was flipping through TV, and caught a snatch of this on CNN: "There are places for mining, paper, and other things in the New Economy as much as there are places for Technology stocks in the Old Economy." Here I was thinking that I was using the same economy as always! There's no doubt that computers and proper pervasive telecommunications can certainly help people, but the current "New Economy" seems to be about companies that produce nothing, or operate at a loss.

Still another problem is that all these people who've heard of this "Grand New Economy" are thinking of it in terms of old technology. The old telegraph companies said that phones were silly because no one wanted to hear people's voices. Now we have phones everywhere, and telegraphs are few. Recent changes in service for most phone companies in North America to give flat rate long distance at times, and changes by the traditional letter post to deal with less circulation are the real signs of this change. But none of these gimme gimme people notice it. They just want *better* -- they don't want to think how it should be better, learn how to use things to be better. It's pathetic.

Don't believe me? Go read this piece, and see how much of it is accurate.

[ イノシロ ]
AOL -is- for Dummies (3.63 / 11) (#9)
by redelm on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 05:12:28 PM EST

Other than that, the Dummies books are fairly good.

You may rail against people who want to use things with a minimal understanding, but that's actually efficient. Why should people know more than they need/want to? There's too much data/facts/info around for anyone to know it all.

The elegance of a market economy is it promotes specialization. Go with the flow. Or maybe you know all the ins-and-outs of food processing, electricity distribution, oil refining and sewage treatment? Probably not -- you just heat your food, plug your computer into the wall socket, put gas in your car, and take a dump in the can. And that's just fine. Why should InfoTech be any different?

Self appointed experts (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by djabji on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 08:43:17 AM EST

I dont mind people learning the minimum that they need to know to do their work. Hey, that is what gives me a job. If my boss knew as much as me about technology, he probably wouldnt need me.

What I do mind is people who think that they are a computer expert because they know how to use windows, have added a modem and have upgraded their ram.

Know your place. I dont expect to be able to talk about cars at a level that will interest someone who took a 68 Mustang and customized the hell out of it to create some uber-sports car. "hey, my name is Brent, and those alternators are pretty cool, eh? They like produce electricity and stuff. Once my alternator died, then my car wouldnt start." I also dont expect to be able to hold my own in a conversation about computer vision with my professor.

[ Parent ]

re: Gimme Generation (3.00 / 6) (#10)
by Suanrw on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 05:31:15 PM EST

This story has an underlaying theme which I agree with, however, the presentation and supporting arguments did not convince me by themselves. I have no idea what the gimme generation is thinking, although I fear they are laboring under a variety of illusions and delusions.

A symptom of this theme is, I think, the dumbing down of computer hardware, software, television shows, books, newspapers, language. etc. in order to reach a larger audience or market or whatever.

We have two daily newspapers in this city. From the front page to the crossword, they appeal to different audiences. The grammar, vocabulary, point of view are different.

I have noticed a trend in the titles of the "Teach Yourself X in Y" or "Learn X in Y" books. It seems that these used to be Y="21 days". Now it is more like Y="2 days". Exactly how much can you learn in 2 days? There's more information in some man pages than in the whole 2 day book! And after that I know that I need to really work with a new language or program for some time to become skillful with it. I have purchased (and read) some "... For Dummies" series books, but there was never enough in them to satisfy my need to know.

There was a program on TV last year about some guy that worked at different jobs each show. (I don't know the name; I never watched it myself.) I thought the whole idea was insulting to anyone with a post-secondary education or in a highly skilled job. It suggested that even a very intellegent person could acquire the knowledge, skills and experience to successfully practice a profession in just a few days. Without that base the guy was a fraud, a con man, certainly not a suitable role model for the young. Contrast that to Dr. Richard Kimble (sp?) in the Fugitive (the original series) - different jobs each week, but they were odd jobs, manual labor, paying just enough to survive. That is what the uneducated can expect, not the attractive well-paying jobs.

First you need to learn how little you know - then you can start to learn what you need to know.

Where are all the non 'Dummies' books? (3.22 / 9) (#11)
by Fred Nerk on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 05:56:29 PM EST

I don't know about you, but when I walk into my local technical book shop, I want to see rows and rows of Technical books. These For Dummies books are labelled as technical resources, but I personally can't see it. Granted there are some really good books out there, but it seems like everybody who can put 3 words together is writing a technical book even if they know nothing about the subject matter, and are aiming the book at people who don't want knowlege, they want to be able to say "I read Learn Java in 7 days, so hire me as a Senior Java Programmer". That also by the way is my problem with the MCSE and other such certifications. I'm not saying they aren't any good, but quite often businesses will hire an applicant with a MCSE and no experience over someone who tought themselves everything they know, and have 5 years experience in the field. How can a piece of paper you bought replace years of experience?

Experience... (3.00 / 2) (#17)
by ssc on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 11:53:32 PM EST

Luckily, all of us where I work fall into the "...themselves everything they know, and have 5 years experience in the field..." category.

We sit around once a week going through the applications that have come in, blowing holes in 99% of them. I guess we're lucky, we're the techies and not the owners, and we get to pick who we want interviewed ourselves.

FWIW, this is how I feel it *should* be. Who is better qualified to review a potential applicant's resume' than his co-workers-to-be?

People, and corporations, need to grow a clue.

[ Parent ]
Books (3.00 / 3) (#16)
by kmself on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 11:32:39 PM EST

Love 'em:

  • O'Reilly, particularly the "Nutshell" books, generally not the "Learning..." series.
  • Prentice Hall
  • Morgan Kaufman
  • New Riders
  • Wiley

Hate 'em:

  • ...for Dummies
  • Idiot's Guide...
  • ...Unleashed!
  • ...24 Hours
  • ...10 days
  • Que

Mixed: Sams. Their "treekiller" three-inch-thick series are largely abysmal. I've run across a few thin impreints recently which have greatly surprised me, in particular a Debian installation guide which blows the O'Reilly equivalent out of the water.

I treasure and support good technical bookstores. Here in the SF Bay Area, that would be Staceys (San Francisco and Palo Alto), Cody's (Berkeley), Computer Literacy (San Jose), and the Stanford University Bookstore (Palo Alto). I've found the chains can be OK, particularly Borders, but usually less satisfying than a solid tech shop.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.

A couple points... (3.25 / 4) (#18)
by skim123 on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 04:02:55 AM EST

They envision this Utopian society where everyone is able to use a computer as well as somebody who spends every waking minute using a computer

An interesting point, and yes, I'd say this is overdone (more so in the past year or so than today, I'd say, but still... people think ubiquitous computing, computers in our bodies, computers for everyone! An interesting aside: recently at a conference, Bill Gates expressed his views on the issue: "Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, offering the closing remarks Wednesday at a three-day business conference, said itís more important to spread health than technology. ... he said itís too narrow-minded to focus only on computers. He lamented that 95 percent of health care spending is spent in the developed world, and called it criminal that so little money is being devoted to ending malaria."

It offends me that online stores such as Amazon.com and Yahoo, will store my preferences and present me with what they think I want, or present me with the choices others have made based on the fact that they purchased the same book as myself

Does it offend you if Bob the waiter knows that you like a Rum and Coke with your dinner? Does it offend you that Ronny the Butcher knows you always like to pick up lamb chops whenever you stop by? I find such knowledge useful and convenient... then again, I'm a (terrible) creature of habit. At school a couple friends and I went to this one restaurant about once a week, always had the same waitress. We always each had our "regular," and the waitress would bring us our drinks when we arrived (those were standard too), say, "The regulars?", we'd nod, and that was that. :-)

How much simplier can they make AOL and Yahoo for the common person? I think they are extremely simple as they are

Right, they are simple for people with little to no computer skills. You know so much about computers because you work on them for a living. Get off your high horse! :-) Have you ever thought just how damn easy it is to use and maintain a car? I guess auto mechanics may sit back at www.auto5hin.org, or wherever they all go, and say, "Man, could they make cars any easier to use? Stupid morons like to think they know how to drive a car and that they are good at it, but little do they realize how dumbed down these modern contraptions are."

Speaking of those dummies-level books, my favorite has to be: Sams Teach Yourself the Internet in 10 Minutes. Tee hee! Could you see one of these "gimmie" people sitting around saying, "Hey, I've heard 'bout the Internet. Guess I can afford 10 minutes to learn it all." :-) (They also have Sams Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes! Granted, it has 29 5-star reviews on Amazon, but come on, SQL... in 10 minutes!? I spent many months on it before I felt I had a firm grasp, and there are some of the more complex query options still elude me...)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Patent! (4.25 / 4) (#26)
by dblslash on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:47:07 AM EST

We always each had our "regular," and the waitress would bring us our drinks when we arrived (those were standard too), say, "The regulars?", we'd nod, and that was that. :-)

One-nod shopping! *grin*

[ Parent ]

Only 60% spent on technology (2.50 / 4) (#19)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 04:10:15 AM EST

you mean you only spend 60% of the available time each week immeresed in technology and some weeks that drops to as low as 41%. What are you doing with that time ... sleeping? Everyone knows you should live on coffee and only sleep while rebooting Windows. I do agree with you. I've been programming for six years know in a variety of languages and I still don't consider myself an expert programmer. I'm good but not excellent. I then meet someone on a one year programming course who thinks they can learn a little bit of Vb/Delphi and can instantly walk into a high paying programming job. After two months on this course they still haven't learnt about arrays. If after two months you haven't mastered the most basic of programming concepts IF THEN ELSE how can you hope to fully understand pointers in the reamaining few months. These people are going to be very disapointed when they finally recieve their HND and are told you are how a programmer. Becaus ethe first day they have to program/maintain a proper program they're going to be so over their heads they'll not know what to do. As with the dummies books they're often poorly written and describe the most simple concepts only. AOL is only used by brain dead morons so it's already designed for these feeble half corpse like beings. It doesn't need a dummies book. The only book I would like to see is "Linux for people who were Windows gurus and hate being Linux Newbies". That was my main dislike when I switched from Win to Lin, one minute I was a mighty guru felling fools like trees. Then ... suddenly I was a hapless newbie trying to work out which .conf file to edit. As Scot Adams creator of Dilbert once pointed out the world will be seperated into advanced computer users, computer users and people who use AOL. We will rule the world, people who like word will run the factories and AOl users will polish our shoes while we build Baewolf clusters.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
So where did you start? (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by meadows_p on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 04:29:12 AM EST

So you were born with an instinctive knowledge of computers and programming. Give me a break, I think it should be applauded that more people are trying to get into technology, and we should help them all we can. It's great that there are these for dummies books, at least it gives someone a basic grounding. As an example, say you wanted to get into motor mechanics, would you start with a book that was nothing but technical specifications and filled with jargon that you couldn't understand or an easy to understand book with simple diagrams "This is an alternator, it recharges the battery", for example. All this AOL lusers, it's crap. Please elaborate how you started on computers.

[ Parent ]
How I started (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:18:11 AM EST

I started on a cheap mail order 486 SX25 back in 1993. It had 4 MB of RAM no sound card and a cheap graphics card. Windows was slow so I used DOS. I was 11 at the time. No one in our family had ever used a computer before and we didn't know anyone who had ever owned a computer. My father and I taught our selves how to use it with the aid of the DOS 6.22 manual that ships with the PC. We then taught our seleves how to re-write autoexec.bat for multiple memory configs so that we could play DOOM and USNF. After that we taught ourselves to program in QBASIC and the Pascal. We then upgraded the RAM and HD and first connected to the internet in 1994 using Demon. I didn't switch over to Win95 until 1996 and to get around many problems I'd written DOS based databases and othe rutilities to save time.
I think this proves that anyone can use computers without having to resort to simplistic Dummies guides. As we proved that you can teach yourself using a reasonabely technical manual providing you are moderately intelligent.
I taught myself basic car maintenance iut of a Haynes manual which is quite a simple book but not this is an alternator level. It shows you how to change the oil as well as strip the diff. If you had to rely on books like that you couldn't become a Mechanic, it would just be beyond you.
However, I do agree with your point that some people do have a natural technical ability and studies have shown that they're usually left handed dyslexics. I'm right handed but at the company I work for 60% of the workforce (there's only 30 of us) is left handed and at least 5 of the programmers are dyslexic.
As to your point about AOL users not being lamers I have a couple of points. The AOL advert exclusively trades on the fact that a retarded gerbil could use their service. Are you an AOL user?

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
[ Parent ]
No, I'm not (2.00 / 1) (#25)
by meadows_p on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 09:28:31 AM EST

Sorry, I was playing devil's advocate quite a bit there. I'm not a member of AOL and I'm completely self taught on computers. I started off with an Acorn Electron in about 1984/5 (can't really remember) aged about 9. Taught myself BBC Basic and 6502 assembler out of the users guide for the computer. Started on the 'net with some sort of BBS system running on Research machines 480Z's in about 92/93, started on the "proper" net in about 94 using gopher. So I suppose I'm arguing your point. None of this was particularly easy at the time, and I suppose I did learn a lot more by doing it the hard way, instead of through some 'for dummies' book, although I still can't agree with an elitist point of view. I still think these 'for dummies' books have a place. Perhaps some who read them will progress onto delving a bit deeper, perhaps they won't. Perhaps the next 'l33t coder will be someone who'd thought computing inaccessabel until reading a for dummies book, realised it's not that hard and became a guru. Stranger things have happened.

[ Parent ]
On knowing it all... (2.33 / 3) (#27)
by scgreen on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 10:29:37 AM EST

I've been programming computers since I was about 7 years old, using an Apple][, no +, no e, no c, and the way I learned all I know is... I read the manuals. I tried things. I *experimented* with different ways of doing things. I fondly remember troubleshooting broken equipment (like a floppy drive that wouldn't work unless you held it at about a 45-degree angle) by just *doing* it. I knew noone who knew anything about computers - I only had manuals that were (often) pretty bad, if not outright incorrect.

It's not that the knowledge was inborn - far from it. It's that I had a willingness to tinker, to play, to explore this wonderful toy, and I learned.

Okay, given that, I get *extremely* pissed when people do as the author here talks about: "How do I..." "What can I..." "Jeepers! This AOL is so difficult!!!" etc. I have zero sympathy, empathy, compassion, or desire to help people who don't, at the very least, *TRY* and figure it out themselves. I taught myself assembler programming, how friggin hard can it be to figure out Windows/AOL/Yahoo?

While I agree that technology should be available for the masses, I also think there should be some kind of "you must be >< this tall to ride this ride" thing here. People who are so damn helpless that they cannot figure out how to use something as brain dead as Yahoo are, well... Not worth my time. (And, yeah, there's plenty of stuff I don't know how to do, but, dammit, I'll read a damn manual/FAQ/whatever before I start bugging someone else with stupid (and most likely already asked) questions.)

Sorry for the semi-rant, just got off the phone with my mother, who just asked me why her Earthlink CD sounds so screechy... :)

Backlash is a bitch... (none / 0) (#32)
by Miniluv on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 03:52:29 PM EST

Well, I'm in your boat...I'm mostly self-taught, though I do rely on the support of my friends who know things I don't to help me expand my knowledge, the same way they do it with me. Remember though, not everyone has the same ability we do to pick up computer knowledge.

The way I tend to look at it, is that anyone who's trying is more "acceptable" than anyone who isn't...effort, even seemingly wasted, is better than not. Yeah, it annoys me when friends come running to me with simple problems rather than RTFM'ing it...but I'll at least turn 'em around and give 'em the right resource to look at.
"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Compare and contrast with The Technical Elite (4.33 / 3) (#28)
by Erf on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:50:11 PM EST

I just wanted to point out the interesting contrast between this article (which complains about people who want the information without having to learn it), and "The Technical Elite?" (another K5 article, discussing the problem of technical illiteracy).

Putting the two together and stating the obvious, it would appear part of the problem of technical illiteracy is that it's so much work. It took most of us years and years to learn what we now know, to be as comfortable as we are running these beastly things called computers. Then these other people come along, seeing us having so much fun, and want to join in, without realizing what goes into it. The same thing happens in other fields -- this is why so many authors get asked "where do you get your ideas?" or "how do I write a book" (and why there are so many books about writing).

I do the same thing myself, really. Many times there's a task I want to do -- analyze some data, for instance (I'm a physicist) -- and I don't want to learn to use the mind-bogglingly arcane tools that exist to do it. So I bug people until they either hand me some sample of work that I can tweak to do what I want (minimizing the amount I need to learn) or they just do it for me. I have no real interest in the tools themselves, just as the Gimme people have no real interest in the computers themselves -- they're a means to an end.

Going through all the work to learn computers and how the Internet works and stuff seems like an awful waste of effort if all you want to do is check football scores and buy a book...

...doin' the things a particle can...

Undead (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by Kaa on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 03:57:41 PM EST

Maybe I'm just stupid, but then again I only spend 70-100 hours a week living, breathing

Wow! Undead among us! 24 x 7 = 156, so you breath half of the time, right?


Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.

Arithmetic (none / 0) (#30)
by spiv on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 04:23:07 AM EST

24 x 7 = 156

Umm... is that like 6 x 9 = 42?


[ Parent ]
Turn it around (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by unusualPerspective on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 03:02:30 PM EST

How about we turn the issue around, and look at it from a techie doing non-technical stuff perspective?

I, for instance, love music. Unfortunately, I have negative musical ability (other people actually play WORSE after they try to teach me). Over the last 15 years I've spent many, many hours trying all sorts of instuments. Keyboard, bass guitar, drums, hell, I even tried the flute. Tried voice lessons, too. My money was refunded, and I was asked never to sing again. All I've ever been able to do is make people wince. My 3yr old daughter plays the piano better than I do.

How does this tie in to the topic, you ask? Well, I rejoice in the fact that I don't have to be talented myself to just listen to music. I don't have to be able to keep 3:4 time. I don't have to push the right combination of keys. I don't have to know how to build my own CD/MP3 player. Other people with talent do it and make it incredibly easy for me.

And thats the way it should be.

The Gimme Generation | 33 comments (20 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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