A growing number of people are confessing to acute stress when their computers stall. many hurl abuses, while others hit out at monitors and keyboards. computer rage is fast becoming a dangerous reality, writes Shobita Shivshankar
mean machine

Ashish Gupta is waiting anxiously for a message from an overseas client but there’s a connectivity problem and he just can’t log on to access his e-mail. After a fruitless hour, his patience finally gives way and in seething anger, he yanks the modem and smashes it... |Meenakshi Rao wanted to change the way her |desktop looked but she pressed some wrong keys |and shrunk the screen to the size of a matchbox. |She tried to restore it but to no avail. Enraged, she |began abusing and cursing the computer…

We’ve heard of road rage. We know a lot about work-related tensions. Now you can add another stress-inducing phenomenon — the computer. Rage against the PC is already worrying experts, and psychiatrists may soon have to come out with viable solutions for people who get mad at their computers.

Stress points

Even as the world gets wired and our lives become inextricably linked to computers, information technology is heralding new stress points. A growing number of people are confessing to over-reaction and acute anxiety when machines fail. Many hurl abuses; others are even known to bang the mouse with annoyance, and even hit out at monitors and keyboards.

A British study by the University of Bolton on computer habits has brought out some startling results. It reveals that 54 per cent of people have raved and ranted at their computers at some point or another while 40 per cent have physically attacked their machines in a fit of rage.

Physical violence
Many blame the incomprehensible computer jargon for their frustration, others say the ‘help’ command in a computer is so complicated that it makes the problem even more daunting and raises their blood pressure. Some become violent when the computer stalls or crashes, others turn abusive because of the high number of junk messages.

A study has quoted a diary entry of a department store worker after he smashed his PC… "I always wanted to do this. Kill my computer. I finally did. I used a bare fist. I punched that worthless pile of sh**. It was worth it."

As speed becomes the buzzword in offices, a large number of people working on computers have given in to occasional tantrums when their machines fail. The time taken by computers to perform functions increases frustration levels. Couple that with already high stress they face at their workplace and it’s a deadly cocktail.

Shouting and swearing

Another study carried out by UK-based BT Home Computing shows "Four in five users (83 per cent) have experienced difficulties when using their computer within the past 12 months, and seven in 10 (70 per cent) of these admit to shouting, swearing or being violent towards their computer when these problems arise."

In fact, survey after survey shows that nearly everyone has sworn and abused the computer at some point whenever something goes wrong — which is not very rare. Many are know to have banged on the keyboard, while others yank the wires to vent out their frustration. In extreme cases, people have even smashed their monitors.

Uncontrollable rage
Benoy Chatterjee, an advertising professional, has had a brush with computer rage. Recalling an incident, he says, "I was giving this all-important presentation when my computer stalled mid-way. I became really tense. I tried fixing it but it just refused to move. I had to talk my way through the meeting. Predictably, I lost the deal. I was overcome with uncontrollable rage and felt like picking up a hammer and smashing my computer to smithereens."

Or, take the case of Sarabjit Gill, a public relations executive. "Being a PR person, I have to remain in constant touch with my clients and I check my e-mail three to four times a day. What frustrates me the most is the amount of junk mail that clutters my computer. Sometimes, by mistake I delete important messages while deleting junk. If I could lay my hands on people sending me unsolicited mail, I would kill them!"

The International Stress Management Association says e-mails are among the top reasons for computer-related stress. However, the bad news is that junk mail is going to increase manifold, even as more cheats get hold of your addresses.

Says Gill, "I have finally found a way out. I have installed a software that eliminates junk mail. I have also learnt to de-stress myself by listening to music. I go to the MP3 site on the internet and unwind myself from time to time."

Counsellors & helplines

In a number of western countries, there are counsellors, especially trained to deal with computer rage. Phonelines are set up to deal with this new-age stress. Experts say that computer and internet-related violence has become so alarmingly high that people are encouraged to call up helplines and vent out their frustrations.

A number of leading computer makers the world over have set up training classes for their support personnel to calm frayed nerves, and hear out their customers’ complaints and traumas, whose anxiety levels rise when faced with unintelligible acronyms and tangles of wires, about which they know very little.

Companies are also working overtime to make computers less prone to breakdowns. A time is soon likely to come when the computers will become almost crash-proof. The urgency to make them crash-proof stems from the fact that the worst kind of violence and anger is manifested when the computer crashes and valuable data is lost forever.

Dr Praveen Bakshi, a senior psychiatrist at Delhi’s Institute of Neuro Sciences, says, "There are time-tested ways of avoiding computer rage. And one of the most important steps is dividing the work schedule so that one is able to take breaks at proper intervals. The key here is to not sit in front of the computer for extended periods." He also recommends morning walks and meditation to keep stress at bay. "The computer is a tool to make life better and more efficient. It should not be allowed to take over our lives."


Your computer is stressing you out when........

You feel it is taking more than normal time during startup.

The internet is slow and your e-mail does not open.

You swear when the computer throws some incomprehensible jargon.

Take control of the situation by....

Recognising stress indicators like irritability, mood swings, loss of concentration.

Limiting the amount of time spent on checking e-mails.

Not consuming alcohol or smoking to relieve stress.

Meditating during breaks to reduce stress.

Games, rage and videotapes

There are a number of videogames based on the theme of computer rage. Titled Computer Rage, Fallout, Rage — many of these use images of shattered computers and play on the theme of frustrations with the PC. There are also a number of board games on the same subject. In fact, there are scores of videos on Youtube showing how computer rage brings the worst out of people and others show how best to combat it.

Eyeing trouble

So when was the last time you got home from office with red eyes and a foul temper? Do not ignore these symptoms.

Computers are being blamed for eye ailments that are becoming a bane for the corporate world. It is estimated that almost 30 per cent of people who visit the eye OPD at Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, have problems related to working with computers. Though nobody has yet gone blind because of computers, vision problems are known to result in depression, frustration and exasperation.