Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Cueball's laptop has a problem that has resisted many hours of concentrated effort at resolution. Megan offers to help, but she concludes that the laptop is haunted. Literally haunted, as in it is possessed by an evil spirit.
A similarly unresolvable problem can be seen in 1084: Server Problem. In that case, no haunting is suggested, and Megan suggests Cueball wait for the Singularity.
The title text indicates that when Megan tries to return the laptop to Cueball, he simply refuses. She willingly took possession of it in the first place, and Cueball has clearly decided that he no longer wants anything to do with it. Megan is welcome to it. This would be extremely vexing to Megan, who presumably wants to own a haunted laptop no more than would anybody else.
The use of the word "ghost" may also be an allusion to the philosophical problem known as Ghost in the machine. This has been popularized through cyberpunk literature and movies, such as The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell. The question is whether machines are, or could be, conscious and have their own free will.
The comic may also be intended to remind us how non-technical users see computers and technology in general. Often a non-technical person will anthropomorphize a gadget, assigning it a personality with quirks. In this case, it happens to take the form of a ghost. When they have problems, they often give the device to a slightly more technical person to deal with it, which they may not be able to do. This failure could confirm (at least in the mind of the non-technical person) the personality of the device. Note that Cueball is not "non-technical", so this possible interpretation does not literally match the depicted scenario.
It should be noted that technical users often joke about sufficiently complex systems operating at the mercy of supernatural forces (SCSI interface maintenance requiring goat sacrifices being a popular past category). Encountering a machine that is literally possessed or cursed is a logical extension of this theme.
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- [Cueball sits at a desk with a laptop. Megan is off-screen.]
- Cueball: Argh!
- Megan: What?
- Cueball: Why do I always have these inexplicable, impossible-to-diagnose computer problems?
- [Megan walks up to the desk.]
- Cueball: After six hours of this, I've concluded nothing works or makes sense. I give up on logic.
- Megan: *sigh* Gimme. I'll figure it out.
- Cueball: You won't.
- [Cueball sits at his laptopless desk. Off-screen, we can hear the woman working on it.]
- Type type Click
- Megan: ?
- Type type type
- Megan: ???
- [Megan is back in front of the desk, clutching the laptop.]
- Cueball: How'd it go?
- Megan: Your computer is literally haunted.
- Cueball: Told you.
Literally haunted? 184.108.40.206 08:22, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
I was wondering too if Randall was also taking a sideways swipe at the way many people today misuse the term "literally".220.127.116.11 22:42, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
I would say he trying to say that some errors that computers have are impossible to fathom. I've baffled our IT people on many an occasion and the solution is usual 'rebuild' which is the computer equivalent of an exorcism.18.104.22.168 10:18, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
- Definitely this. It is also much harder to figure out what the problem is with a computer when you weren't the one who has spent all their time using the computer. It is why I can't understand how IT people do their jobs. Daleb (talk) 13:14, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
Surprised nobody mentioned Ghost in the machine yet... --Koveras (talk) 10:28, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
I find the current explanation entertaining but... raises questions.
Is "This comic is inexplicable and represents a self-referencing joke about explainxkcd.com." serious?
- I think it's not and I deleted the sentence. 22.214.171.124 14:39, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
- If the comic is not a self-referencing joke about explainxkcd.com, then what conceivable combination of words WOULD constitute such a joke? (note: I am not the one who first made the (now deleted) point, but I agree with it.) 126.96.36.199 08:46, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
"While it might [be] a reasonable conclusion [i.e. that it is 'haunted'] for a human, demons can't possess a computer." - this reads like "demons exist, but are incapable of possessing computer equipment", rather than "demons cannot possess a computer, because they don't even exist", which would be my preference (under the standard rules of not being able to prove the non-existence of the supernatral... and, believe me, I've had my fair share of totally baffling computer problems, in my time, and often anthropomorphise equipment, somewhat, at least to explain it to non-tech users... but then end up adopting the same attitude myself, of course).
"The title text suggests that Megan insists that Cueball resume possession of his laptop, as she is unsettled by the ghost; Cueball simply refuses, seeing an opportunity to make his problem hers." - I see that as more akin to the "cursed gem" type of story. One simply cannot palm the gem off on somebody else, but it must have a legitimately willing recipient (including a thief stealing it, often) in order for the curse itself to transfer itself. Now that the 'status' of the laptop is known he's not going to accept it back and take the 'curse of errors' back upon himself. 188.8.131.52 14:08, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
- I just removed the sentence "While it might [be] a reasonable conclusion for a human, demons can't possess a computer." In the real world ghosts (the comic does not mention demons) don't exist and can't possess either humans or computers; in a fictional world, they might be able to do either or both (a la King's "Trucks"). -- 184.108.40.206 15:24, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
- Are you completely sure of that? How do you look at news like Church trains more priests to perform Exorcism? -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:12, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
I think the joke is just that normally the smartass that knows more about computers than you is able to easilly fix it, but not in this case. Halfhat (talk) 16:13, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
So am I the only one who thinks that the caption(or whatever the hover over text is called) refers to Cueball trying to return the laptop to a retail store. I mean I can see a store like Best Buy refusing to take back a laptop because a customer insists that there is a ghost in it. 220.127.116.11 18:25, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
- I agree. but until more people notice it, lets leave it. Imanton1 (talk) 03:56, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
- I thought this too, except I thought it was more a comment on people's attachment to technology, "Demon-posessed or not, it's got all my kitten videos on it!".--18.104.22.168 08:28, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
- You're not the only one. That's exactly what I thought the mouseover text was about, too. I guess it could be read multiple ways, but maybe the explanation should acknowledge that? Enchantedsleeper (talk) 19:12, 15 January 2014 (UTC)
Overthinking, maybe, but if the computer is haunted (read: possessed), then a valid solution IS to return (read: unpossess? dispossess?) it. 22.214.171.124 23:36, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
Demons and devils can possess people or things; ghosts only loiter/haunt a location. 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
My wife says, "it's a Turing test!"
188.8.131.52 02:24, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
Am I the only who have thought of a corrupted random access memory on this laptop? Last time when I had a RAM failure on one of my machines, for a non technical person it may have appeared haunted: e.g. not executing just specific applications, writing nonsensical error messages, crashing applications when a specific word was being used...you name it. Running memcheck revealed later that one RAM module had lots of corrupted bytes but the problem only appeared when one RAM module was getting hot. So as long as the machine was idling if behaved just fine. So no ghost for me, I guess. 184.108.40.206 09:19, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
People, there is no implication that this is a new laptop. It cannot be returned to the store, ok? Megan does not want it in her possession, so she wants to give it back to Cueball but he will not accept it. The only reason she says "take it back" is because it this a straight line that allows Cueball to reply "No". 220.127.116.11 18:33, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
I once had a computer that was a nudist. After a couple of months it allowed me to get it dressed. I must say it taught me to be more accepting of the needs of electronic devices then and now. 18.104.22.168 20:02, 14 January 2014 (UTC)
I'm not convinced that the strip is genuinely inexplicable, but one thing I am certain of is that there is no explanation to be found here on this page. None. Every single one of the comments above is reaching. If the computer is literally haunted, then describing it as such is not misuse of the term "literally". If there's no terminological misuse, then there's no sideswipe at the misuse. Maybe some computer errors are impossible to fathom, but describing such errors as a 'haunting' does not constitute a joke, etc., etc., etc. To me the key, the "punchline", is Cueball's "told you". That is the only thing that requires explanation. All the stuff above is annotation, NOT explanation. Q: When did Cueball tell Megan that the computer was haunted? A: When he told her that "nothing works or makes sense". To him the two statements, "the computer is haunted" and "nothing works or makes sense" are equivalent. To him haunting can only be a valid explanation in a world which is entirely devoid of logic. I did try to explain that, but my explanation got Occam's-Razored out of existence. 22.214.171.124 03:14, 15 January 2014 (UTC)
- Yes, my comment about the use of "literally" _was_ meant as an amused remark at best, not explanation. Otherwise I would not have put it on the discussion page :) 126.96.36.199 15:34, 15 January 2014 (UTC)
Did anyone else think of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "I Robot, You Jane"? It could be a reference (Giles: ... There's a demon in the Internet. Ms. Calendar: I know.) Yuriy206 (talk) 17:57, 16 January 2014 (UTC)
"Ghost" was also a popular disk cloning and backup software. And restoring from a clean "ghost image" is a common way to fix "haunted" computer. --188.8.131.52
17:08, 27 January 2014 (UTC)