Whaddya Mean, I Hate My Computer?

In the pursuit of a remedy for misotechny, we need to ask ourselves why it is that people hate their computers. Technophobia makes perfect sense: computers are complicated and often unintuitive machines, and mastering their foibles is a daunting task. But it’s only a machine; why should anyone hate it?

The answer, I think, lies in the role that computers have come to play in our lives. Over the course of the 1990s, computers have ceased to become toys or conveniences for most of us, but necessities. There are many advantages to this state of affairs: easier communication, simpler revision of documents, cheaper production of documents, and so on for several pages. However, this means that there are thousands and thousands of people who depend on computers everyday–for whom these machines are a essential part of their work–and they don’t understand their tools.

To work every day with a tool which may, at any moment, stop functioning for opaque reasons, and which you are not able to fix or even to diagnose its problem, is extraordinarily frustrating. Frustration, in turn, tends to be channeled into anger. But who is the target of this anger? Most people in this situation won’t blame themselves; they know how to do their job, and they’re doing it correctly. They could blame the company who made the machine, but it’s often not clear whether the problem is with the hardware, the operating system, or the software, all of which were probably made by different companies. Which one is at fault?

In the end, most people, unable to find an appropriate target for their anger, wind up putting the blame on the computer itself. The computer is serving as a symbol for the entire computer industry and the societal structures which are forcing them to use this machine which they don’t understand.

The problem, of course, with being angry at an inanimate object is that you can never work out your difficulties with a machine. If it isn’t fixed, it’ll keep doing what it was doing that made you angry in the first place; it has no desire to get past the negative relationship between you.

Fixing the machine, of course, would fix its behavioral problems, but if you could fix the machine, you wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. And as we all know, a computer is never permanently fixed. So, the anger just builds up and festers. Anything you do with your computer takes on a bit of that flavor of bitterness. The next time something goes wrong, you are even less inclined to deal with it, moving closer and closer to the day when you hurl the big plastic beast out the window.

The solution to this, as we discussed in the first column, is understanding. Once you come to understand your machine, you can deal appropriately with problems, and you have a better chance of being able to place blame where it rightly lies. Your computer problems will remain problems, but they will be setbacks to overcome rather than slurs against your ability to do your job.