The Psychology of Computer Rage

[source wikipedia] In April 2015, a Colorado man was cited for firing a gun within a residential area when he took his computer into a back alley and shot it eight times with a 9mm pistol.[2] When questioned, he told police that he had become so frustrated with his computer that he had “reached critical mass,” and stated that after he had shot his computer, “the angels sung on high.”[3] In 2007, a German man threw his computer out the window in the middle of the night, startling his neighbors. German police were sympathetic and did not press charges, stating, “Who hasn’t felt like doing that?”[4]

Both incidents highlight the increasing frustration and emotional responses people can experience when dealing with technology-related issues, particularly with computers. So why do we rage against the computer?

The article the Psychology of Computer Rage discussed the phenomenon of “computer rage” the above described frustration and anger people experience when their computers fail to perform as expected. It points out that many individuals have experienced such moments of rage, which can range from slamming keyboards and punching screens to more extreme actions like physically assaulting or destroying computer equipment. The author attributes this rage to the way people relate to their computers, treating them like social entities and expecting them to follow social norms.

But when computers fail to do things we ask them to, specifically when we are in an important time crunch or have a lot at stake, failure to perform a command is seen as a violation of social norms and results in anger and indignation. Imagine trying to return to your spot in line at the store when you’re already 30 minutes late for lunch with your partner, your dog is in the car, and the person who was supposed to save your place claims that they don’t know who you are, and you have to go all the way to the back of the line and wait just like everyone else. To make things worse, when we cannot understand why these social norms are broken (Why was that person at the store such a deliberate jerk?), it can feel even more extreme than a simple breach of social norms— it can feel like betrayal. In your mind, your computer shifts from your best ally and partner-in-crime, to the thing that prevents you from accomplishing a task or goal when time is tight and everything is on the line. And as we know from any Hollywood drama, when people feel betrayed, they oh-so-easily go on an “I’ve got nothing to lose” rage.

According to the Media Equation theory, people tend to treat computers similarly to how they treat other humans, applying the same social norms to their interactions with technology. When computers fail to fulfill commands, especially during critical moments, users feel a sense of betrayal akin to social norm violations, leading to heightened anger. The article also suggests that understanding this psychological aspect can help individuals manage their computer rage.

The Psychology of Computer Rage – Psychology in Action.