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Why Are Unix/Linux People Grumpy?

© February 2009 Anthony Lawrence

Oh, don't look so surprised. It's not just me - where do you think "RTFM" came from? People weren't saying that to be nice - they were saying it because they were ticked off, annoyed, pissed.. and you know it. Grumpy is rampant in the tech world.

It is amusing how often "grumpy" turns up in conjunction with "Unix" or "Linux". People use it as their login names, as the name for projects.. there's even a "GrumpyLinux" distribution. It's very much a part of our culture. We're grumpy and we know it.

I'm extra cranky right now because I've been sick with the flu for nearly a week and the codeine I took for the cough probably did nothing to smooth my usually less than charming personality. Even on my best days I'm no diplomat. Even when I am honestly feeling nothing but good will, people sometimes think I'm angry. You can blame part of that on people confusing blunt honesty with anger. Who can blame them? They hardly ever hear bluntness unless it was driven by anger; ordinary speech will tie itself in a knot before it ever says the simple truth.

Short tempered?

Is that why we have a reputation for short tempers? Because we Unixy folk are used to direct commands that do what they are supposed to do, does that directness overflow to our relations with people?

I admit it: I flare up pretty easily. The things that set me off are important things like justice, truth, fairness.. when some cretin with a barely functional forebrain makes his mouth spew hatred, yeah, I get angry. I wouldn't say I get angry when someone lacks the ability to understand a simple answer, but I admit to feeling frustrated.

I can't tell you how many times I have refunded money paid to me for support answers when it turned out that the person asking couldn't understand the answers I had already given them. I'm not saying they were stupid; I'm saying they lacked technological understanding. They might have been brilliant lawyers, musicians or whatever, but they couldn't understand the answer I gave and I lacked the patience to explain it, so I gave up and refunded their money.

Now I know somebody is going to protest. Yes, I could have charged them more money and found a way to help them. I could have, but THAT'S NOT WHAT I WANT TO DO. I like providing help to people who are smart enough to help themselves but are just stuck on one simple thing they didn't know.

Lazy? Us or them?

That's where the RTFM came from, I'm sure. I'm sure that every person who ever typed that into a response was feeling the same thing: yes, I could take you by the hand and teach you the silly little thing you need to know, but I'd like to see you exhibit something vaguely resembling intelligence and effort and figure THAT out by yourself.

Ooops, there's that "vaguely resembling intelligence" thing. Kind of sounds like we think somebody might not be too bright, doesn't it? Well, in a way, maybe. Shouldn't they have been smart enough to know they wouldn't understand the answer? I don't call up my doctor saying that I'm considering performing surgery on my wife's brain and I "just have one quick question".

OK, OK, that's extreme. I'll back down on the intelligence thing. These people probably do think they are going to get an "Oh yeah, just open up the HELPME Manager and click on the 'Everybody Forgets To Click This' box" answer. They don't realize that that they might need to be able to use a text editor - and if they do, they think that Microsoft Word is a good choice for that function. They don't realize that if they are asking about a networking problem, it's reasonable for me to ask about their router. Reasonable for me, not so reasonable for someone who says "No, I don't have a router - we have a switch!"

So, OK, it's my fault for not having patience. I'm lazy, which is a character flaw said to be common in all programmers. Is that the source of our discontent? Are we just too lazy to explain at length? Maybe. Frankly, I find myself searching for words when somebody tells me that their Unix box might have a virus because the printer stopped working. Where do you start? Where do you start with the guy who is muttering about cookies and wants his disk defragged to take out the hidden virus code? OK, so I'm an impatient jerk, but honestly: where DO you start?

I think the problem really is that so many people assume they know much more than they do. I don't tell my car mechanic that the car needs a tuneup because the glove compartment light is out, but we get things like that all the time in computer support. I blame Microsoft.. well, heck, I'd blame them for anything, but in this case I think it's a fair complaint. They've created an army of people who think clicking in windows is using a computer. Damn, now I've gone and reminded myself of Microsoft and that ALWAYS puts me in a bad mood!

You in the back who started raising your hand - what the hell do YOU want? You got a question, Mister? It damn well better be a good one!

Seriously, if you have a question, see When you need help NOW. I might refund your money if I can't help or if I'm just too lazy, but most of the time you will get real help and I'll only be a little grumpy.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Tue Feb 24 05:51:23 2009: 5487   jtimberman

No joke: My nickname (assigned by coworkers at a large company) was/is Grumpy Smurf.

It haunts me to this day.

Tue Feb 24 09:04:04 2009: 5488   anonymous

I <3 you :)

Tue Feb 24 10:48:17 2009: 5490   BrettLegree

And here I always thought we were grumpy because people assumed we all wore suspenders and had giant beards.

(*adjusts suspenders, strokes giant beard thoughtfully*)

No, you're right. Blame Microsoft. I think the average "office jockey" knew more about computers in the DOS days because they had to do something - not today though. Clicky-clicky.

My seven-year old, who has been using Linux for only a couple of weeks, now has more computer knowledge than 95 percent of the people where I work.

And I work at a nuclear company.

Tue Feb 24 13:22:54 2009: 5492   anonymous

I think we are entitled to be grumpy, as has been pointed out, the consumerisation of IT by companies such as Apple and Microsoft, has reduced people to not realising there is a whole command stucture available outside of the point and click interface.

I work on a project which puts users, infront of Linux Based OS, running on a USB stick. and the support departments, are all frozen solid, with the whole concept of "Linux Support" when 99.9% of the setup and install is done on Windows. the actual OS is so locked down, you couldn't do anything with it anyway.

For some, there is no OS outside of windows, and no problem that can't be solved by a defrag or running spybot. And thats in our industry. so what chance do the great unwashed have?

Support, and IT is easy, if you are capable of following basic instructions, and this my friend, is where most fall over. Lets face it, most people can't bake a cake, because they can't follow instructions, so what hope do they have on a computer..?

Tue Feb 24 13:29:18 2009: 5493   anonymous

I found it very frustrating recently when a client told me, "I don't know how to use Linux. I am a Mac guy. I know the Mac." Ah, sorry, you must not, because the Linux instructions that I gave you could have been performed on your Mac as well. You are a GUI guy.

Tue Feb 24 13:38:45 2009: 5494   NickBarron

Thanks Tony you just made my day...

Tue Feb 24 15:25:25 2009: 5495   BigDumbDinosaur

My seven-year old, who has been using Linux for only a couple of weeks, now has more computer knowledge than 95 percent of the people where I work.

And I work at a nuclear company.

Why, you must be...er...glowing with pride. <Grin>

Seriously, I get grumpy with users for many of the same reasons as Tony. It just seems at times that people are too friggin' lazy to solve the simplest of problems. Have we developed a race of incompetents with all this technology?

Tue Feb 24 15:26:31 2009: 5496   RamboTribble

What the Hell do you mean, grumpy? This is sweetness and light. You want grumpy? I'll give you grumpy!

Tue Feb 24 18:08:21 2009: 5499   Simetra

Great article - a couple of years too late. Linuxers attitudes almost drove my dumb ass away. Luckily, I relied on my own intelligence instead of any gurus, and I am now a happy Debian/Mandriva guru myself. I just have to spend all my time alone because I apparently pissed off the wrong lazy Linux-using smartass. Oh well! It was worth it and life is still good eh? And yes - this is tongue in cheek (I think) and 90% of people really are that stupid and undeserving of my <our> time but hey what else do we have to do?

Tue Feb 24 19:00:03 2009: 5500   BrettLegree

"Why, you must be...er...glowing with pride."

...if you only knew ;)

And we most definitely have created a race of incompetents.

These are the same people who used to proudly tell everyone, "I can't set the clock on my VCR!"

I mean, why not just wear a shirt that says, "I'm too stupid to read the manual, and I'm proud of it!"


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