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Andy Rooney on Mobile Computing Devices

November 7, 2011

Although not a scientist himself, Andy Rooney, who died on Friday, November 4, 2011, at age 92, had many of the same qualities for which scientists are known. Foremost among these is the fact that he was an observer of small details that other people gloss over. In viewing his obituary, it appears that he may have brushed shoulders at Colgate University with the slightly older Guyford Stever, whom I wrote about in a previous article (H. Guyford Stever, May 18, 2011).

Walter Cronkite once described Andy as an "Everyman, articulating all the frustrations with modern life that the rest of us... suffer with silence or mumbled oaths."[1] Naturally, many of his commentaries were about modern technology, and computing was one of these. Here are two computer-related quotations:[2]
"Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."

"Computers may save time, but they sure waste a lot of paper. About 98 percent of everything printed out by a computer is garbage that no one ever reads."

Figure caption

Andy Rooney

(Photo by Stephenson Brown, via Wikimedia Commons))

As Rooney remarked in one of his commentaries, he did use a computer for writing, and he did find it preferable to a typewriter.[3] The main point of that particular commentary was that he had the same typewriter for fifty years, but he had purchased seven computers in six years. Said Rooney, "They make computers so you have to buy a new one whenever there's a full moon."[3] His typewriter never asked him for a password, and it never told him that he performed an illegal operation.

Rooney was glad that a prominent computer executive (whom he names, but I'm too polite) didn't invent the television, since he feared it would take an hour for it to boot to watch his hour-long 60 Minutes.[3] You could update his sentiment about computers and television with a jab at digital rights management.

Rooney gave a commentary about cellphones in 2005. The main point of his commentary was that the cellphone is not really an invention, it's just a modification of Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, and it's "changed our lives in so many unimportant ways."[4]

As far as I know, he never gave a commentary on smartphones and other mobile computing devices, such as tablet computers. In his honor, I've written the script of what such a commentary might have been like. Imagine Andy talking, and you'll see that it's a very plausible script.

{Medium close-up, Andy at his beloved walnut desk}
Do you have a mobile computing device?
{Andy brings an iPhone into view}
They look like this, a cross between a pack of cigarettes and one of those cartoon robots you see on Saturday morning television. Their manufacturers claim that these devices make it easier for people to connect to the Internet, and to connect with other people; but do they really?
{Wide shot of desk, showing desktop PC and telephone}
I do all my work, the little I choose to do, at this desk. Here, I have my venerable PC, about three years old, and still very functional; and here I have my telephone.
{Andy picks up telephone handset}
Aside from talking face-to-face, as God intended, my desktop telephone is as simple as communication can get. It rings, I pick it up, I talk; and when I'm finished, I hang it up. Most importantly to my clumsy hands, this thing is easy to grip and hold, and I don't need a magnifying glass to dial the numbers.

If it falls on the floor, it doesn't break. Best of all, it's cheap. You can buy one of these at any number of stores for much less than twenty dollars. How much does a smartphone cost? A lot more than ten times the cost of one of these.
{Andy hangs up the telephone and rotates his chair towards the desktop computer}
This is my computer, where I do all my typing. It's much more efficient than the real typewriter that I used for many decades, so I didn't mind giving the old thing up. One nice feature, at my age, is that I can make the letters on the screen big enough to read. That's pretty useful technology.
{Andy holds up a smartphone with its tiny keyboard}
Have you ever tried to type a page of real text on one of these? My fingers are so fat, that one push on this tiny keyboard gives me an entire page of text in an instant. The problem is that the text is only readable by those infinite monkeys who are in a room, somewhere, recreating Shakespeare.

The manufacturers claim that the small keyboard is not a problem, since it's only intended for short messages. Since it takes me at least two paragraphs to announce to my staff that I've arrived at work for the day, such a keyboard is clearly not for verbose people, like me.
{Andy turns toward camera at front of desk}
Sorry I need to cut this short. If I'm reading this right...{points to smartphone} ...my secretary has scheduled a meeting for me in five minutes with an angry bird.

I'll end this article with a quotation from Andy Rooney from an October 23, 1988, commentary on coffee cans that seems apropos to much of today's technology.[5]
"Everything you buy today is smaller, more expensive, and not as good as it was yesterday."


  1. Sarah Halzack, "'60 Minutes' commentator was America's Everyman," Maine Sunday Telegram, November 6, 2011.
  2. Andy Rooney Quotations of BrainyQuote.com.
  3. Andy Rooney, "Why Computers Are Screwed Up," February 11, 2009.
  4. Andy Rooney On Cell Phones, July 31, 2005.
  5. Andy Rooney Quotes on CNN.com.                              

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Linked Keywords: Scientist; Andy Rooney; Colgate University; Guyford Stever; Walter Cronkite; modern technology; computing; Stephenson Brown; Wikimedia Commons; typewriter; full moon; television; 60 Minutes; digital rights management; cellphone; invention; Alexander Graham Bell; smartphone; mobile computing device; tablet computer; teleplay; script; coffee; can.