Before we get into this topic let’s first establish what Computer Rage is exactly. It’s essentially anger that turns into uncontrollable rage over a malfunctioning computer or any other electronic devices . This results in people verbally or even physically abusing a computer. According to Wikipedia article (and many other sources which can be verified with a quick search on the Internet): “In 2009, a survey was conducted with British computer users about their experiences with computers. This survey found that 54% of respondents reported verbally abusing their computers, and 40% reported that they had become physically violent toward their computers. The survey also found that most users experienced computer rage three to four times a month“.
This may be bit of a sensitive topic for some, but if you’re planning on a long and prosperous career in the software industry or any other industry that requires you to use a computer on a daily basis, you or someone you know will at some point experience Computer Rage. Hence it’s probably a good idea to give it some thought and if you’ve ever experienced it, it’s an even better idea to try and manage it for your own mental health and those around you.
If you were to to go according to pop psychology, you would think that any one experiencing Computer Rage is a psychopath that treats other people in the same way that they would treat a computer when experiencing Computer Rage. Pop psychology even tells us that before dating someone you should first see how they react to working with a non-functioning computer or a slow internet connection. Personally I don’t believe that you have to be a psychopath to experience Computer Rage. Based on the above statistics, I cannot believe that 54% of British computer users are all psychopaths. There must be something else to it.
I’ve searched far and wide for information on Computer Rage and how to manage it. However, I have to say that aside from statistics and basic pop psychology I haven’t really found much value in the materials I’ve read thus far. A this point I have to be honest and say that over the years I have experienced Computer Rage on a few occasions, but fortunately with age and experience I’ve started to manage it much more effectively. So in other words, this advice is coming from someone that has first-hand experience with Computer Rage.
As a disclaimer, I’d like to add that I’m not a psychologist nor a doctor, but instead this is just simple advise from a software developer that has spent a minimum of 8 hours a day in front of a computer for over a decade and has occasionally experienced Computer Rage just like the other 54% of British computers users cited in the study.
Let’s look at some of the reasons that cause Computer Rage:
- Impatience & unmet expectations: Impatience is an obvious one, but it’s important to think about what causes impatience. Suppose you’re on Holiday and you have all the the time in the world to relax and enjoy your life. There is nowhere that you need to be and there are no deadlines. You’ll probably notice that you and everybody else around you that is on holiday is driving slowly. Suppose you get to a traffic light and there’s one guy in front of you who doesn’t notice that the light has gone green: chances are that you won’t lose your cool but will remain calm and relaxed. Now imagine that you’re back at work and you have to catch a flight for a very important meeting with a customer on the other side of the country. If you miss the flight you miss the meeting and you’ll probably lose the customer. Now imagine you’re running late to the airport and imagine the exact same scenario where the guy in front of you at the traffic lights doesn’t see that it’s gone green. Chances are you’ll lose your cool, start sweating, maybe start cursing and hoot at him. The difference between the two scenarios has nothing to do with the guy not seeing the traffic light going green and everything to do with your expectations. In the latter scenario, your expectation is to get to the airport on time and get to the meeting. When people are driving slowly you realise that the expectation will not be met, which makes you impatient with other people and can lead to anger and even road rage.
- Feeling helpless: Another major cause for anger and frustration with computers is when you feel helpless to change a situation. This can often happen when something goes wrong with your computer or software and you don’t know how to solve it. This can quickly lead to despair and generally feeling like your whole world is falling apart. Feeling helpless and despair will instinctively draw a fight-or-flight response from most people. Some people will start crying (flight response) while others will get angry (fight response) as a natural knee-jerk reaction to overcome the perceived threat they’re facing.
- Lack of confidence & anxiety: A lack of confidence can lead to anxiety and anxiety can lead to a lack of confidence. This goes hand-in-hand with feeling helpless. A lack of confidence in your own abilities to troubleshoot an issue can amplify the feeling of helplessness and despair.
- Existing stress: Working with computers on a daily basis can be stressful in itself. That coupled with additional external stress, either from your personal life or work politics can be prove to be overwhelming and turn into a recipe for disaster. There is only so much weight that one can carry on their shoulders and given long periods of time under heavy stress can make any one reach their breaking point. This can lead to irrational responses and Computer Rage.
- Fatigue: Working when you’re tired can reduce your level of concentration and patience, which once again can reduce your ability to troubleshoot issues and therefore make you short tempered when things don’t go according to plan.
So here’s my advise for managing Computer Rage:
- Psychological tips:
- Manage your expectations: the first step to becoming more patient is to start managing your expectations and you do that by planning ahead. You know that the traffic to the airport will be bad, hence you should probably leave earlier. If you do end up running late, you should realise that it’s your own fault and just surrender to the impatience and anger you’re feeling. This translates in a similar fashion to slow and unresponsive computers: you should start planning better for your deadlines and keep in mind that in the tech industry anything that can go wrong will go wrong. If you’re going to leave your work for the last moment, you will quickly lose your patience with the computer when it doesn’t behave the way you expect it to behave. Furthermore you should lower your expectations of your computer i.e. you should expect the computer to be slow at times.
- Avoid working when you’re tired: I know that there are many companies that push for ridiculous deadlines and actively encourage workers to pull all-nighters. But the truth is that working while you’re tired is not in any way productive. Aside from many other negative side effects which I won’t get into in this post, you have to also keep in mind that you will be short tempered when you’re tired. I have never in all my years seen anyone maintain the same level of patience when they’re tired than as when they’re fully rested. Therefore working when you’re tired will without a doubt cause some Computer Rage.
- Avoid working on an empty stomach: First of all, your brain needs to nutrients in order for you to think properly. If you’re hungry and come up against an issue when working, you will not be able to think clearly and troubleshoot the issue efficiently when you’re hungry. This once again can lead to feeling helpless and and ultimately even anger. This is known as being “hangry“. The reason for it is that not eating will lower your blood sugar levels and according to psychologists “Hunger and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are primitive signals known to set off the stress response in a person“. For some people this stress response can escalate into anxiety, depression, anger or all three. This is an evolutionary mechanism designed to put us (and animals) into survival mode in order for us to prioritise finding food. Therefore it is important to not work on an empty stomach if you want to avoid being short tempered when things do don’t go according to plan.
- Don’t drink too much coffee: There’s a joke in the software industry that developers are machines that convert coffee into code. This may be true because coffee is a stimulant that gets your brain going, but at the same it can escalate anxiety which can turn into anger and being short tempered. So try avoiding getting over caffeinated.
- Close your eyes, take a deep breath and count to ten: Even if you’ve put all the above measures into place to avoid Computer Rage, there will still be times when your computer will cause you to get angry. For example, the computer could become unresponsive because it is busy processing or perhaps trying to connect to a resource over the network. If you’ve ever run on a treadmill or done the plank exercise, you’ll notice that looking at the odometer or timer can be an excruciating experience where 30 seconds can feel like a life time. You will have probably come to realise that looking away from the odometer or timer and thinking about something else will make the time go faster. The same principle can be applied to dealing with unresponsive computers. If you start feeling irritated, try closing your eyes while waiting for the computer to become responsive. You could also try taking a deep breath and counting to ten while keeping your eyes closed. Nine times out of ten the computer will once again become responsive by the time you’ve opened your eyes.
- Take a walk: As a last resort, if all else fails and you can feel the onset of anger, you should get up from your desk immediately and take a walk. While being away from your computer try thinking about all the possible causes of the computer malfunctioning. You will probably come up with a few ideas within seconds at which point you’ll be tempted to go back to the computer to try them out. Avoid going back to your computer before you’ve calmed down. Instead, carry on walking and come up with several more ideas. You can go back to your computer once you have a list of ideas and you’ve completely calmed down. You’ll also notice that as you become calmer, the ideas will start streaming in i.e. your level of calmness and the rate at which you get new ideas are directly proportional.
- Sort out other problems from your personal life: It is naive to think that problems in your personal life cannot affect your work life. The truth is that we are all human and if you have a personal issue, it can cloud your judgement and your ability to think properly while on the job. For this reason it is important to sort out your personal problems as quickly as possible so as to not affect your ability to work.
- Practice silent leadership: It’s not always easy to be immune to drama and/or office politics happening at work, but it is important to at least try. The best way to avoid office politics is to practice “silent leadership“. There is a great deal of material out there on silent leadership so I won’t get into this topic except to say that silent leadership is essentially putting your head down and getting to work without complaining, arguing with other people or worrying office politics and drama.
- Technical tips:
- Don’t be cheap: This is by far the best and most important advise I can give anyone for preventing Computer Rage. If you’re a knowledge worker and especially a developer that spends at least eight hours a day behind a computer, then you simply cannot be cheap with your hardware. Development tools can be especially resource hungry causing a weak computer to be quickly brought down to its knees. Aside from the drop in productivity of using a slow computer, I can without a doubt say that it would be literally destroying your own mental health and maybe even your life in general. There is absolutely nothing worse than having to constantly wait for your computer to be doing something after every click. Given enough time working under such conditions it can literally drive you into a mental asylum. There are certain things in life that you could and should be cheap on, but a computer is not one of those things. I know that most of the times the companies normally provide you with their own computers to work on and many of these companies that are run by bean counters can indeed be very cheap on the hardware they provide you with. If that’s the case, do yourself a favour and go out and buy the best computer that you can afford. If it comes down to it, sell or downgrade your car if you have to, but purchase a fast computer i.e. your car costs you money while your computer is a tool that helps you make money.
- Saving you work: One of the main causes for people losing their cool with their computers is when they’ve been working on something for an hour (or more) and all of a sudden something goes wrong with the computer where it freezes, blue screens or applications crash. This can easily lead to feelings of despair with people throwing their toys out the cot. This is in fact the easiest issues to solve by simply getting into the habit of continuously saving your work. Learn your keyboard shortcuts for quickly saving your work. If you’re coding for example, get into the habit of hitting the save keyboard shortcut after every function or line of code that you’ve written. If you get into this habit, you’ll end up instinctively saving your work without even thinking about it e.g. it will become like changing gears in your car, where you don’t even think about it you just do it.
- Backups: I have personally seen people having meltdowns after documents that have somehow been deleted or their computers crashed without being able to reboot them. It goes without saying that the easiest way to prevent this from happening is to always have backups of everything using one or more of these options:
- Source Control: You would think that every developer on the planet uses source control, but I have personally seen programmers with years worth of code just sitting on their laptop never having been checked into any repository. Seeing this blows my mind. Even if you’re a single developer working alone without having to collaborate with any other developers, it is crucial that you get into habit of checking in and pushing your code changes to the repository as often as possible. If something goes wrong with your computer or you lose it, you can simply check out your code from the repository and be back in business in no time.
- External Drives: For very large files that may not be appropriate for source control repositories, I’d advise you to get into a habit of backing up these files to an external drive.
- Restore Points: Start using TimeMachine on Mac OS X and System Restore on Windows in order to create restore points. If anything goes wrong you can always restore your machine to a previous state. Personally I love using Apples’ Airport Time Capsule because not only does it serve as a wireless hard drive that I can manually copy files to, but it also performs automatic backups of my entire laptop every day while creating restore points for Time Machine.
- Cloud Backups: Most operating systems nowadays have some sort of cloud backup feature whether it’s through Google Drive, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive or even Dropbox. Get familiarised with these tools and save your most important files to the cloud.
- Knowledge is power: The easiest way to overcome feelings of helplessness and despair when dealing with technical issues is to learn. This obviously doesn’t happen over night, but the more knowledge you have the more empowered you will be to overcome technical issues when they come up. So instead of getting angry and throwing your toys out the cot, you’ll be able troubleshoot the issue with confidence. Keeping this simple rule in mind can help when you feel the onset of anger.. Even if you don’t immediately know the cause of the issue or how to resolve it, you can at least start researching for possible causes and solutions before you lose your cool.
- Task Manager / Activity Monitor is your friend: The easiest way to start troubleshooting an unresponsive computer is by using Task Manager on Windows or Activity Monitor on a Mac. Nine times out of ten, there will be an unresponsive application that is the culprit. Using Task Manager/Activity Monitor you can view which applications and services are being resource hogs i.e. taking up the CPU, RAM, handling heavy network traffic, or furiously reading and writing to the hard disk. If the application does not respond after a few minutes, you can quickly kill the process and restart the application.
- Close apps you’re not using: This is all about setting up good habits. I have seen people running 50 or more applications and browser tabs concurrently on their computers. When the computer starts slowing down and becomes unresponsive they seem to be flabbergasted by it. It’s always good practice to try and limit the amount of applications and services that you’re running concurrently. This will free up your resources on your computer and provide more processing power and memory to the applications that are currently in use.
- Browser tabs: you really don’t need more than a few tabs open in your browser e.g. email, search engine and two or three other web pages. For example, if you have 50 web pages that you’d like to go through, then you really don’t have to keep all of them open in your browser. Instead, rather copy and paste their links into a text file as a reference. When you’re done going through one web page close it and open the next URL.
- Applications: Get into the habit of saving your work and closing an application you’re not currently using. Not only does this free up computer resources, but it also makes it easier for you to navigate between the applications without constantly searching through all the clutter. This is essentially similar to having a clean desk because as they say “A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind.”
- Background Services: On Windows for example, using Task Manager you should get into the habit of regularly looking at all the services that are running and the resources they’re consuming. On Windows for example; if there’s a Windows Service that is running and not being used, then stop the service and change its Startup Type from Automatic to Manual i.e. the service should only start when you manually start it instead of starting up automatically when the computer boots up.
These are all just some basic tips for avoiding Computer Rage and stress in general when working with computers. Keep in mind however, that simply knowing these tips will not help unless you practice them everyday.