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, , , , | Working | January 13, 2022

During my last year of college, in the early oughts, I used to work in a campus computer lab as a tutor/technician. My job was to perform routine maintenance on the computers and help the students and teachers who needed assistance. It was pretty simple; people could book a time slot in advance, and then there were a few computers that could be used on a first-come-first-served basis for quick errands like checking email or making printouts. Since both the students and their teachers were notoriously bad at planning ahead and always expected this to be everybody else’s problem but their own, there was always a line to those computers.

One beautiful afternoon, I need to make a routine update on one of the “quick errand” computers. I know the program will take a while to run, so I write a large note which I tape up so it covers almost the entire screen with the message, “Update in progress. DO NOT TOUCH.” Then, I go about my usual tasks, helping people with whatever they need help with.

After a while, I notice a student sitting at the computer I’m doing maintenance on, so I walk up to them. They have removed my note, shut down my update, and are on the Internet.

Me: “Sorry, what are you doing?”

Student: “I just need to check my email. No one was sitting here so that means I get to use it, right?”

Me: “No, I was trying to update it. Now I have to start over from the beginning. Didn’t you see the note I put up?”

Student: “Oh, I was in a hurry. I didn’t think it was important.”

Me: “Well, it was. You’ll have to wait your turn on one of the other computers or book one in advance.”

I shoo them off, restart the update, put up a new sign, and go back to what I was doing. Five minutes pass, and when I look up from what I’m doing, I notice another person sitting at the computer I’m working on. This time, it’s a teacher.

Me: “Excuse me, you can’t use this computer right now. I’m doing maintenance on it. Didn’t you see the sign?”

Teacher: “Oh, it’s all right. I just need to make a few printouts; the printer in my office doesn’t work. I really need to get this done before my class starts. It won’t do any harm, right?”

Me: “Actually, I was running an update on it, and this is the second time I’m going to have to start over because people can’t leave it alone.”

Teacher: “Really, how bad could it be? I need to get this done for my students. It’s not the end of the world.”

I look at the teacher. I look at the flash drive they’ve got plugged in. Then, I look back at the teacher.

Me: “Do you know which program I am trying to update?”

Teacher: “No, what?”

Me: “The security software. It stopped working on this computer. I wouldn’t plug that drive in anywhere else if I were you.”

The teacher went pale, snatched the drive out, and fled.

To be honest, it probably wasn’t that bad. It really was a routine update, but I was fed up with people not being able to follow very simple written instructions.

In the end, I shut down the computer, removed the power cord so no one could try to restart it, and waited for my coworker to come in for their shift. I then stayed behind for half an hour so I could finish the update while guarding the computer like an extremely vicious computer watchdog.

It’s probably been about twenty years since, but I still marvel at the fact that so many people with an upper-level education seem to be completely unable to read a simple sign.

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