Reality Check: The computer made me do it…

Can a computer “make” you mad? If you’ve ever sat in front of one when things aren’t going well, you understand the question!

Whatever the problem: the printer won’t print, the email won’t email, or google declines to google, you’re sure it’s not your fault. Even when you recognize that it could be your fault, it’s still tempting to look for something, or someone, to blame.

Folks who don’t use computers are not immune. The principle applies to anything that doesn’t work as it “should.” Think of your TV, vehicle, phone…

Now, the inanimate object in front of you —that box that’s seems to be “making” you distressed—has no concern for you at all. It’s as impersonal as you can get. Even so, have you ever lashed out at your computer?

In some cases, when one person expresses frustration at an inanimate object, another may try to help. If help is refused, the potential helper may choose to be offended. “She’s too stubborn to let me help,” or “He doesn’t think I know what I’m doing.”

Or, the “victim” may choose to direct their frustration toward any human who happens to be nearby. They might even find a way to blame another: “You didn’t shut this down properly,” “You must have changed the settings,” or more simply: “You broke it!”

How well do these behaviours work? Instead of having just one unhappy computer user, everyone in the vicinity gets a share of the misery. What might be more effective?

From a choice theory point of view, we can only control our own behaviour. (We might like to think that we can also control inanimate objects, but you and I both know that’s easier said than done.) Here are a couple suggestions:

  • If you are the aggravated victim of a computer meltdown, it may help to find a way to relieve your tension before thinking about fixing the real problem. It will be more effective for your long-term satisfaction if the tension release you choose doesn’t jeopardize your relationship with the person near you, whether it’s a co-worker, spouse, child, or friend.

How? Physical action—running, pounding your fist, or screaming—can be helpful. (Choose your location carefully, but you knew that, didn’t you?) When the pain of the immediate failure has been somewhat dissipated physically, use your now-cooler head to deal with the problem.

  • If you are the innocent bystander who only wanted to help and chooses to feel offended, try dropping your defensiveness. Does it help to take it personally? To attribute thoughts to the other person that they didn’t express? Just because she doesn’t want to hear your extremely helpful suggestions doesn’t mean she’s stubborn. Not wanting your input doesn’t necessarily mean he thinks you’re stupid.

For both parties, keep in mind that in the big picture, some behaviours are helpful while others are harmful. Whether directed toward man, woman, or computer, complaining, blaming, or criticizing seldom result in an effective outcome. But then, you can always reboot a computer…  

Does your computer “make” you angry, happy, or anything else?

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