Why IT help desk humour is getting stale

It’s easy to make fun of people who haven’t been installing and configuring IT for most, if not all, of their working lives. It’s just not easy to make it funny.

Earlier today SysAid Technologies sent out a list of help desk bloopers reported from its users around the world, most of which seem like recycled versions of jokes I’ve heard a million times before. There was once someone who didn’t know where the “eject” button on a disk drive was. Hilarious! Someone actually thought turning off their monitor was the same thing as restarting their computer. LOL! Can you believe someone could not figure out that pressing the “okay” button on a help window would move things along? Insert laughtrack here.

This was the only one on the list that made me smile (as opposed to laugh), perhaps because it implied that both IT help desk and user were in on the joke:

Last winter a user submitted a ticket for me to make the snow stop.  This occurred in January and I closed the ticket in May. Job done, sometimes it just takes a while.

I’ve found there is a considerable appetite for this kind of thing, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because, on the one hand, IT departments are constantly being told they need to understand the business, even when most of their counterparts in marketing, finance or wherever wouldn’t know the first thing about upgrading an ERP system or virtualizing IT infrastructure. The jokes, I think, may allow technology professionals an opportunity to feel superior, at least for a few minutes, before they get lambasted again for not aligning with corporate objectives.

These stories lose much of their humour (not that there’s much to begin with) as the technology involves becomes obsolete. As they move towards USB keys and smart phones, how many people in the next 10 years are going to guffaw over the old chestnut about the woman who thought her CD-ROM tray was a coffee cup holder? It’s also the kind of humour that’s confined to departmental/end user technologies. When’s the last time you heard a really good one about someone not understanding how to extract meaningful information from a business intelligence deployment, or who mistook the mainframe for the office fridge?

There’s also a change afoot in the way support for technology is managed. Help desks still get plenty of calls, but for many consumer devices that are now regularly used by enterprise workers – the laptops, the social media tools, the Web 2.0 software – users go directly to the vendor, or better yet to each other, to solve common problems. They don’t get ridiculed for their ignorance. They are treated as equals. As they become more sophisticated with technology – something that is already happening within the next generation of employees – they may be less and less inclined to involve IT departments in their training and development journey. Who will be laughing then?

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