646: Conversations

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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If the dysentery graph looks historically inaccurate it's because I got all my data from Oregon Trail.
Title text: If the dysentery graph looks historically inaccurate it's because I got all my data from Oregon Trail.


This comic humorously links both dysentery and laptop computers with conversations in which one participant is on the toilet.

Dysentery results from viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections in the intestine, and is characterized by severe diarrhea, which means that someone will be on the toilet frequently and/or for a long time. So when dysentery was more prevalent, people spent more time on the toilet and presumably would have to talk to other people while sitting there. Dysentery has largely subsided in the developed world, which is why the graph of dysentery cases falls to near zero over time.

Laptops could cause toilet conversations because wireless internet allows people to carry their laptop anywhere around the house, even to the bathroom. They can still communicate with friends by text, voice, or even video chat, which means people can multitask by holding an online conversation while sitting on the toilet. If the chatting is just in text, then the other person won't have to know that their friend is on the toilet - Hopefully voice and video chat are less common while sitting on the toilet.

There are always some conversations on the toilet, because the social conventions against it are sometimes ignored or overridden by urgent situations. This explains why the conversations graph does not reach zero in the middle.

The joke in the title text is a direct reference to a previous comic regarding The Oregon Trail and dysentery.

The title text refers to the popular educational computer game around the 1980s titled the Oregon Trail. The game purports to educate students about 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail in the western United States. Among the features in the game is the common occurrence for a party member to die of a disease such as cholera, typhoid, or dysentery. The title text humorously suggests that the data for the graph comes from occurrences of dysentery in the game.


[A graph plots time vs. 3 lines.]
[Dysentery cases starts high, drops to near zero with time.]
[Laptop sales starts at zero, then raises.]
[Frequency of conversations in which one participant is on the toilet - falls as dysentery cases falls, then rises again with laptop sales.]

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I thought we, xkcd readers, deserve better than someone who doesn't label his axis ;) -- 09:18, 7 February 2015 (UTC)

In this particular case, the lines are labelled due to being separate things, so it doesn't count. I also know that this comment is now over five years old, but I don't care. 21:19, 21 February 2020 (UTC)

I'm disappointed that there isn't a spike labeled "Lyndon Johnson's Presidency"