The IT tale of an anti-tech user

Working with a professor who refuses to use computers is a challenging task for this campus' IT and other staff

Working in an academic environment has been a big change for me after 20 years in IT in industry. And being the lead techie for our campus ERP system means that I get the calls that no one else knows what to do with.

One day the registrar turned over to me a call from one of our sociology professors, "Dr. X," who had a reputation of being very anti-technology. It was a well-known fact that his email box had been full for years, since he refused to ever get on a computer.

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Dr. X's way of dealing with the campus' shifts to technology were to make departments such as HR do whatever he needed or send his assistant to deal with it. Other staff members on campus would usually just do what he asked out of sheer exasperation. The IT staff had tried on occasion to help him learn even a few basic skills or to interest him in technology, all to no avail.

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Even though I was already aware of all of this, my first conversation with him still amazed me. It went something like this:

Me: How can I help you, Dr. X?

Dr. X: I'm trying to register one of my advisees, and "Susie" in the registrar's office is telling me that I have to "release" him first. What is that all about?

Me: You are supposed to log on to the system, enter the student's ID to bring up his record, then click on the "Release to Register" button. He'll then be able to go online and register.

Dr. X: I've never done that before. I always just fill out the paper form and give it to Susie. Is this something new?

Me: We've been doing it this way for 2 years now.

Dr. X: Well, I've been doing it on paper for 30 years, the way that universities have been doing it for centuries.

Me: You mean like they did back before they had computers?

Dr. X: That's right. Back before the Nazis and IBM got together to invent computers for the Nazis to calculate their artillery trajectories. Universities are essentially medieval institutions. Some of us use computers to work on our projects and some of us don't. Why I ...

Now I knew perfectly well that Susie could still take his piece of paper and register the student, but she was probably tired of empowering Dr. X's refusal to use computers. At this point I was feeling very sorry for the poor student who just wanted to get registered before everything was closed out, so I told Dr. X that I would release the student myself. He insisted that I call him back afterward to assure him that the student could register, which I did. Then this part of the conversation occurred:

Dr. X: I have one other problem that you may be able to help me with. Some of my friends have said they are trying to email me, but the messages don't work because my mailbox is full. I can't believe that, since hardly anyone sends me emails.

Me: Well, you'd be surprised how many emails are being sent to you. For instance, the university alone probably sends you 10 or more each week. I can easily believe that your mailbox is full.

Dr. X: Is it possible for you to just wipe out everything in my mailbox, so I could start over?

Me: Sure. I can't do that myself, but we can call "Joe" in our department and he can do that for you.

Dr. X: I suppose there could be something in there that I might need to see. Could Joe print those out for me before getting rid of them?

Me: I suppose he could, but that would be an awful lot of paper. They would probably be backing a truck up to your office to deliver them.

Dr. X: Maybe I could print them myself?

Me: That would still be a lot of paper, and I don't think our email program would let you print all of them at once. So if you want to see what is important, you might just want to sign on to email and read the more recent ones and then decide if you want to print them. Would you like me to contact Joe, or do you have any questions about sorting and printing the emails?

Dr. X: You've given me a lot to think about. I'll get back to you.

He never did.

Dr. X still refuses to use computers or to learn how. We're short-staffed and have to pick our battles, so we -- and other departments -- deal with the situation as best we can.

This story "The IT tale of an anti-tech user," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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