Back in the days when Google did not exist (can you even imagine?!), if we ordinary folks had a problem with technology, it was more difficult to work out where we were going wrong. No forums where you could post a question and receive numerous helpful (and many more not so helpful) comments and suggestions. No articles about the best way to format text boxes in Word. No Wikipedia, today’s font of all knowledge.
Nope. When you were using such ‘advanced’ technology as Microsoft Office (the 1997 version), the only source of help came from a paperclip man who performed somersaults around the screen while you attempted to work. Although his official title was Clippit – your Office Assistant – he will forever be fondly (or not so fondly) recalled as Clippy. This friendly piece of stationery would pop up, often unrequested, and make a suggestion. “It looks like you’re writing a letter.” Wow genius. How d’you work that one out? “Would you like help?” All the while his googly eyes would blink at you and his eyebrows would jump about, his body twisting into crazy shapes while he tried to persuade you to take him up on his helpful offer. Often it felt like you were trying to ignore a particularly demanding two year old whilst finishing a vital document with a deadline of 5pm.
Often, the answer to his question was a resounding “No – if I want help I’ll ask for it!” But still, Clippy would pop his cheerful head (body?) up at every opportunity and offer assistance, contorting his body into a number of different shapes to promote some kind of message, though what he meant was not always clear. There were actually several different Office Assistants available to help you out, including a globe, a dog-superhero and caricatures of both William Shakespeare or Albert Einstein (bet they’re turning in their graves), but still, Clippy is the one who will be remembered.
Users were almost unanimous in their hatred of the cute little fellow, complaining that he appeared at unhelpful moments and intruded on the thought processes of the user, requiring them to actually stop working in order to make a decision about whether or not they required his help. Even if the user knew they didn’t need Clippy’s helpful hints, they would still have to pause to refuse Clippy’s aid, and this was in itself, annoying. The regularity with which Clippy appeared was also frustrating and wasted the user’s time.
Outstayed His Welcome
By the end of the 90s it was clear that Clippy had outstayed his welcome, and Microsoft actually held a slightly macabre public execution of the little guy, demonstrating at a Professional Developers Conference in Denver how to kill off poor Clippy. As the user got rid of him, Clippy borrowed the immortal Wizard of Oz words and uttered “I’m melting!” as he disappeared, much like the green-faced witch of the Frank Baum classic.
From this point onwards, people began to create parodies of Clippy, who became the butt of many unkind jokes. Because of this, the paperclip man has now become more a part of pop-culture than Microsoft could have ever imagined.
Poor little fella.
On the other hand, who isn’t thankful for his absence? Microsoft Office is a far more peaceful place without him!