We all know about Clippy that ‘helpful’, smug bastard that appeared in the early 2000’s Office and asked if you needed help. Over the years, he’s become something of a joke, and a commercial failure. It wasn’t until five years ago I learned people hated him, and it confused me. Because when I was five years old, Clippy was the shit. Good shit too.
Imagine this. I’m only five years old in a class with other five-year-olds. First year at school. And it was time for our weekly computer class, which we were taken to by our Vice Principal. A man, who I recall as being 5 meters tall and 1-meter broad. His face was like it had been cut from stone, and that stone painted orange . His muscular form was stuffed into a golf shirt and cargo pants, and he’d lead us down to the computer lab and told to find our own computer and not disturb ‘the big kids’, who were about 12.
We’d all stumble around and find a computer, close to our friends. The CRT monitors, with the backing about the length of my forearm, would flicker on and the huge, graying tower PC’s would roar to life. As Windows 98 loaded on them, you’d silently pray the kid next to you wouldn’t mess around on your keyboard and bring up some Matrix-code style shit you’ve never seen before.
And then you’d flash to the desktop and then be told by the Vice Principal to open something called ‘Microsoft Word’. And that’s when the fun would begin. Would it pop up on the left or the right? Bottom or top? Which avatar would I get? And slowly as Word started up so would it appear. Your Clippy of the day. And then you’d get excited if you got the one you wanted, or whiny if you didn’t. If you did get the one you wanted you’d argue with your friend about why yours, the dog, is better than the wizard. Usually, along the lines of “My dogs better than that because it’s a dog!” retorted by “Yeah, but mines a wizard so he can do wizard things!”
Of course, the point of opening Word was to learn to type, not to look at a cool little graphics thing in the corner. And as you’d type the dialogue of it would change. And of course, you’d ignore it because in those days the general rule is “Don’t do what we don’t tell you” especially when it came to computers, who we’re all pretty sure could easily explode if we did the wrong thing. I suppose we weren’t those little digital assistants target audience, but I suspect they did help us along.
Today I’d probably hate something like Clippy, a smug little bastard trying to ‘help’ me with his condescending little look and half-lidded eyes. But back then, I didn’t really understand it, and it was hard for me, with its funny little animations, to consider him to be anything less than a friend, or at the very least a distraction from what I was supposed to be doing.
Originally published at valiantghost.com.