2801: Contact Merge

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Contact Merge
I actually kind of feel like John and Surf King wouldn't like each other, which is a lot to unpack.
Title text: I actually kind of feel like John and Surf King wouldn't like each other, which is a lot to unpack.


Cueball is in contact with someone in a some typical text-chat context, who uses the nickname of "Surf King". His phone also knows of a person called John, which seems to be the real name of the same person, although Cueball appears to have been unaware or forgetful of that fact. The humor arises when Cueball mentions this to "Surf King", who is flabbergasted that Cueball is not aware of this fact.

Some algorithm that manages the contact-list has been offering (or trying) to merge the contact details into a single entry, as having the same core details, which intrigues Cueball but without him understanding why. Instead he directs a comment about this to "@Surf King", who apparently did not deign to respond (a typed-out ellipsis as a common shorthand for being rendered speechless, as opposed to the temporary "Currently typing" ellipsis).

Cueball's follow-up comment is clearly prompted by the realization that his 'two' contacts both share an interest in surfing, perhaps having been in separate group conversations with both John and Surf King personae in the interim, and he decides to revisit the issue. But from Surf King's response it looks like Cueball and Surf King have been chatting (indeed, in this specific chatroom) for several years, making it mildly impressive that Cueball apparently never made the connection between his identities in that time.

The title text implies that Cueball has had second thoughts about the compatibility of Surf King/John with himself, having picked up further cues from either or both of subsequent chats with him (outside of this particular channel) that reduce the perceived social compatibility. This could be explained by John being far more (or differently) extraverted when interacting via his more sporty pseudonym, or possibly by having subtly changed attitudes and interests over time while not actually using one or other identity to update others' impressions of him. Either of these can be due to his perhaps having let the account of his youth go mostly idle, instead interacting primarily by with the other. In professional contexts, people have been switching to using their given name, whereas people also switch to pseudonyms to protect themselves from harassment or identity theft. It could also simply be that John does not respond well to people like himself, instead having a personality that gravitates to a complementary personality rather than a similar one.

This is another example of Cueball demonstrating extremely nerdy habits. This can possibly be explained by developing different kinds of experiences at a significantly different rates than more extroverted and social individuals due to a much higher proportion of the time and focus in both childhood and adulthood spent doing technical work. Due to this different proportion of experiences, such people can miss normal conversational implications like this, while demonstrating great aptitude in less common scenarios such as engineering. Many see these kinds of people as the intended readership of the comic.


[Cueball is holding a phone and chatting in DMs]
Cueball: @Surf King Weird, my phone keeps trying to merge your contact with John's
Surf King: ...
Cueball: Hey, you two should meet up-He's into surfing too
Surf King: Oh my God
Surf King: Are you serious
Surf King: You've been in this chat with me for four years!
[Caption below the panel:]
I wonder who holds the record for accidentally doing this the longest.

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Same person.

All three of them...Tier666 (talk) 08:32, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

Why is he only using John's first name when talking about him, as if Surf King should know who that is, when it's clear they've "never met"? Shouldn't it be: My phone keeps wanting to merge you with my friend John Smith? 07:46, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

Because he's spectacularly unaware, and assumes that everyone that he 'knows' also know each other? 08:16, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Because "my friend John" is perfectly specific enough. It could have (if not for the needs of the joke) just as easily been: My phone keeps trying to merge you with one of my other friends. 13:40, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
"My friend John" would have been fine, too. The comic just says "John".
"Weird, my phone keeps trying to merge your contact with John's" 18:16, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

This is the first XKCD in a long time that I have absolutely no understanding of. Who is Surf King? Even Google doesn't bring anything up (I assumed it was someone well known in the USA but unknown to the few of us that don't live in that country). Please someone post an explanation soon! 09:06, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

No one in particular. Just someone named John. The short explanation is that his phone figured out that "Surf King" and "John" are the same person/contact while Cueball remains ignorant. 627235 (talk) 09:18, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
I see now. I think I was reading too much into it. I usually assume Randall is operating on a level far above my own! 10:02, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Came here to say this. I usually understand what he’s talking about whether it’s math, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, whateverology, but this time all I could say was “Huh?” and came to explainxkcd for a clue. 21:08, 14 July 2023 (UTC)

I took the "4 years" thing to mean that Cueball had been chatting with SurfKing for 4 years (not an idle chat, but still actively used), and has somehow missed the fact that it's his friend John he's been talking with the whole time. 11:51, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

Yes, and I think it's probably a group chat. It might not be that unusual for someone to use a nickname in a group chat (maybe because someone else gave them that nickname). The group chat context might also make it more likely that a context would have been established where Cueball might expect that everyone would know who "John" was, though as pointed out above, Cueball is pretty clueless.Mwphil (talk) 11:56, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Adding, I think it has to be a group chat because it would be too strange even for Cueball if he started a one-on-one chat with Surf King without knowing who he was, but if some friend added them both to a chat this situation might make sense. Mwphil (talk) 12:05, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
One more, sorry: This *has* to be a group text because Cueball is @-ing Surf King. You don't need to @ someone if they're the only other person you're talking to. (Also Surf King must be pretty annoyed if he's managed to break out the bold italics in a group text, I don't think most texting services support that.) Mwphil (talk) 12:11, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
(Comment below edit-conflicted by sub-thread thisnisvindented to... Adding this replybafter, but same timestamp.)
I deliberately left "group chat" unsaid (i.e. leaving it open) because of the lack of correspondants' avatars on the non-self side of the conversation, which seems to be a standard for both actual and xkcdified representation. Though 'tagging' SurfKing might indicate a more broadcast chat, it's as possible/polite to say in a one-to-one (like starting a letter "Dear Aunty Emma", though the envelope it was in was clearly addressed to her). ((This bit written before edit-conflict with Mwphil's triple-indent, above. But answers it anyway, possibly.))
Anyway, likely possibly its a grouping-agnostic 'chatroom' type thing (or conversation handler) whereby you invite/include at least one other person and it threads all messages with the same full set of contacts together for easy reading (and possible separation from derivative conversations with additions/removals from that set, unless it allows retroactive inclusion/chucking). As said below, I've used many different chat-type methods (though not directly with the "speech bubble" UI as visual theme) and I think we can't pin this down to a particular family of P2P interfaces. But I find the respective thought processes of the two participants (both inside and outside the screenshot shown) more interesting than the more nebulous decisions as to UX/functionality. Strangely for me, being that I'm much more comfortable thinking about code than people where it's just something involving myself.
But, of course, open to be re-rewritten. 12:22, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
To me the chat UI feels sort of Discord-inspired. Discord does not have indentation, but it does display the person's name at the start of each "group" of messages from the same person (as seen here with the grey "Surf King" label above the left-hand messages) and it does have "@" mentions even in 1-to-1 DMs. Personally I sometimes "@" mention someone in a DM at the start of a new string of messages, like if I haven't sent them a message for some time, because this highlights the conversation for them even if their settings disable highlighting/notifications for new regular messages. This could explain why the conversation shown here starts with "@Surf King" even if this is a 1-to-1 conversation with someone that the sender talks to regularly/semi-regularly. 00:32, 14 July 2023 (UTC)

Done a significant rewrite/expansion to the explanation. My experience of "bubble chats" like the comic is restricted only to screenshots (or illustrations, like this) so I'm extrapolating a lot from all the variations that exist, plus adding extensive IRC/BBS experience which is linked by cross-pollination (pre-web/Web-1.5/etc forming a clear basis for Web2.x and App-based paradigms now handle instant/asynchronous short-form messaging conventions). If I'm totally wrong, I'm sure you'll rip out the bad bits. Wanted also to suggest the possibility that if John hasn't actually been seriously using Surf King for a while (but still has pull-/push-notifications active), it was only Cueball's necro that got him to go back into whatever chat-handler that was set up to handle his surf-dude chat. But it was already very unweildy an Explanation, so I'll only leave this bit of my imagination here - to be more easily ignored/dismissed. 12:22, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

The title text implies that Cueball (still unaware of the reality of the sitution) has had second thoughts about the compatability of Surf King/John with himself - I disagree with this. I think what the title text is saying that even though Cueball now knows John and Surf King are the same person, he still thinks they wouldn't like each other - this is philosophically confusing to Cueball, and suggests that John has subtle self-hatred issues which only became obvious thanks to Cueball's mistake. Hawthorn (talk) 13:22, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

Came here because I didn't understand the comic. Now I am even more confused. It would be great if someone could explain the comic in a clear and understandable way. It is possible that there are multiple interpretations, but at the moment they are intermingled. -- 14:18, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

Cueball is in an ongoing chat (possibly a group chat) with someone whose alias is "SurfKing". He tells SurfKing that the contacts manager on his phone is trying to merge "SurfKing" with his friend, John. This has happened repeatedly, but he doesn't realize the cause: John *is* SurfKing. He says that SurfKing should meet John because they both like to surf. SurfKing is outraged by this because he has been talking to Cueball in this chat for four years, and yet Cueball still is unaware that SurfKing is John. In other words, John has been talking to Cueball for four years and Cueball thinks he is some other guy called "SurfKing" after all of this time and never connected the two.
This sometimes happens in real life, particularly in group chat. You could be chatting with a group of people, not knowing who they all are behind their aliases, and continue for some time. Eventually, you become friends with people whom you have never seen in real life, not realizing that "SurfKing" was just your friend John who likes to surf. Alternatively, you could meet a bunch of people in real life at a surfing competition, giving out your contact info, and "SurfKing" strikes up a conversation later. You think this is a new person you met at the competition and chatted with for years before you find out that this is just your friend's alias. Randall then comments that he wonders who holds the longest record for having done this.Geek Prophet (talk) 16:32, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Geek Prophet, that is an excellent, clear, and concise explanation. Perhaps you would care to add it to the article instead of the discussion page. TV4Fun (talk) 17:48, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Okay, my real name is Andrew. Let's say commenter Kynde, who I've spoken to a bit on here, knows me in real life as Andrew (he doesn't, this is a HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE. Sorry I feel the need to specify, I've been encountering a few people lately who don't get how examples work) (Funnily enough, my name was in my ExplainXKCD profile, until Kynde mentioned that the stupid wiki site was using Andrew in some stats instead of NiceGuy1). This is like Kynde saying "Hey NiceGuy1, my phone keeps trying to merge you with Andrew", not realizing that his real life friend Andrew is also a commenter on ExplainXKCD, using a username he has spoken to. :) In 4 years, Cueball hasn't connected that SurfKing is the chat alias of his friend John. NiceGuy1 (talk) 07:04, 15 July 2023 (UTC)

three dots

I don't think the three dots are Surf King not deigning to respond. Aren't three dots (in some chat things?) what you get when someone is typing but hasn't sent the message yet? So Surf King has started to try to respond to this but is too flabbergasted to finish his comment. Mwphil (talk) 12:03, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

I thought there could be three things they could represent:
  • Surf King "had no words" to Cueball's inane reality-ignoring comment, it's his version of 'eye rolling'. Which Cueball didn't understand (fully/correctly).
  • The "your party is typing" symbol. (Although that shouldn't be still there once further messaging (to and from that party) have been added to the chat-sequence.)
  • It's a conversation-manager indication of time passed.
    • And/or that further messages existed in this spot but that are ellided in this view (leaving intro message, for context, and the current foot of the conversation).
To me, the first makes most sense (flabberghasted and did type something). The second looks wrong (reason given). The third is clear from context (the time passing), though there's a problem with the alternate/additional 'third' point being that it doesn't help the joke of this being a four year (mostly no-contact?) conversation where Surf King has seemingly forgotten things while Cueball has no grasp of the temporal dislocation.
But YMMV. And because I wasn't totally sure I tried to write what I wrote to cover all three main ideas. (It wasn't really dealt with at all when I started my edit regarding it. Any further informed change is of course perfectly welcome, but at least you now have my half-considered lines of thought about all this.) 12:39, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
...Forgot to mention the fourth (separate) interpretation I also had.
  • It's a response so long that it's been collapsed behind an icon. Though usually that'd be the first bit of it being shown with an "<expand>" or "<read more...>", as a tappable hotspot, this might not be the case here.
But if it's a collapsed paragraph of a long "no, they're both me, you know this because when we last met I..." reply, then it seemingly also went Whoosh==>Cueball's head, at least by the time four further years had passed. 13:10, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
About the "Your party is typing" message disappearing, I do think that it's within reasonable comics convention to show things that happen in temporal sequence within the same panel within reasonable limits. (https://readgraphicnovels.blogspot.com/2017/04/read-understanding-comics-graphic-novel-chapter-4-page-2.html) So Randall could be depicting the three dots symbol because it had appeared in the chat before, even though not everything in the panel appears at once. I don't know how much he uses this convention though (well I'm pretty sure there are panels in the strip depicting passage of time within a panel, but I don't know if any work this way).
My take on John/Surf King typing three dots is that that would be a sort of passive-aggressive reaction, and I think John/Surf King is supposed to be a pretty normal person. Albeit one who's friends with Cueball. This is admittedly my interpretation 14:09, 13 July 2023 (UTC)
Actually, no, not like this. The "Typing" version goes away after you Submit the message (or if Cueball commented while SurfKing was still typing, the "Typing" dots would move to below Cueball's new comment). The fact that it's ABOVE comments and isn't the bottom thing means that SurfKing ACTUALLY commented 3 dots at Cueball. It basically is a text version of "Uhhhh", to say "I'm speechless". NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:40, 15 July 2023 (UTC)
I read it more as a shorthand way of typing "Well, yes... think about it - you'll get there...". Except, Cueball being Cueball, he doesn't. 08:22, 17 July 2023 (UTC)

On reading it, I at least was convinced that this was a conversation taking place today, with John actually typing the three dots. It is true that the "Hey" suggests that this could be a (much) later text, but there is no reason to suppose it is four years later.

I think this is the only interpretation possible, and the current interpretation is obviously incorrect. -- 16:58, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

I thought that rather than there being a long gap between the two parts of the conversation, like the current explanation says, that "Surf King"/John was expressing disbelief that Cueball hadn't understood that they were the same person for the four years that they've been chatting. Apocolypse101 (talk) 17:20, 13 July 2023 (UTC)

This reminds me of a picture I've seen of a Tweet or something, a woman saying something to the effect of "I don't get it, for two years there's been this dude at the ticket booth going to work, sometimes we get along great, chatting and stuff, sometimes he's all cold and acts like he doesn't know me. Just found out, it's TWINS working at the same place! TWO DIFFERENT GUYS!! TWO YEARS, GUYS!". (I tried to search my Facebook, to get the exact wording, was a Memory not long ago, but I never comment on it, that's all that can be searched). :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 07:04, 15 July 2023 (UTC)

Could you protect the page and create my user page? I woke up and found that they're writing nonsense on me. 2801: Contact Merge (talk) 23:40, 24 September 2023 (UTC)

Why bother? There's nothing 'you' can do about this sort of thing that cannot be caught much quicker by the friendly bot (like it did, just before your request) nor more definitely by the mass of normal editers/readers like the rest of us (should the bot not catch something, or need prodding/replacing). There's no need for dedicated named accounts like yours to claim 'ownership' and control. I suggest the admins ignore you (or that they are doing, already). 15:06, 25 September 2023 (UTC)
We're rising together to fight against the spammers. If they keep spamming, even more comic pages will wake up. We already have at least five members and 353: Python will join too. 2801: Contact Merge (talk) 23:41, 25 September 2023 (UTC)
Madness. Totally unnecessary and will create future problems. Perhaps that's your plan, of course. 08:02, 26 September 2023 (UTC)

I guess that there are too many skeptics, including the phone if its claim to merge the contacts turns out to be false. 2801: Contact Merge (talk) 23:44, 25 September 2023 (UTC)