Once upon a time, Dan Gookin brought forth upon this land a book with a yellow cover, and he called it DOS for Dummies®. DOS being the arcane, perverse, user-surly thing it was (and is), thousands enlisted under Gookin's banner, and hang the epithets — by gum, we're gonna learn this stuff!

That was then. Today, there are Dummies books for almost everything, Dummies T-shirts and whatnot, and the inevitable Dummies Web site. Gookin's original book has been updated and then updated some more; there's even a version devoted to running DOS under Windows 95. By now, the concept has spread well beyond computers — are you ready for Gardening for Dummies?

What sold the Dummies concept, I believe, was its rueful yet grinning self-effacement: "Okay, I may not have the smarts of, say, Bill Gates, or the wealth of, say, Bill Gates, but I can at least make an attempt to avoid looking like a total klutz." A reasonable viewpoint, but one that is not shared by all. Consider, if you will, those blithering egomaniacs (everybody seems to know at least one) who consider themselves above such mundane considerations as Actual Study. "Hey, I'm not a dummy! I don't need to read this at all!"

One of the things I am expected to do to earn my daily bread is to field technical questions from random (and boy, are they) callers. A fair number of them begin apologetically, proclaiming their complete and utter computer illiteracy, worrying out loud about the Wrath of the Propeller-Head. Actually, I don't much mind them at all. What sends me into high (or at least medium) dudgeon is the sort of character who somehow (a gift from heaven? a full-time tutor? osmosis?) is suddenly an expert on the very thing I do for a living. I used to suggest Dummies books to these people, until they started complaining to the management that the Help Desk was being "insulting". Then again, it could be worse. I've been here long enough to remember RTFM.

The Vent

1 April 1998

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 Copyright © 1998 by Charles G. Hill