MindBullets 20 Years


Phone rage now a bigger psychological problem than work stress

Roger Kaputnik was arrested yesterday for torching his phone – in the middle of downtown Manhattan traffic. “I just couldn’t take the disconnects anymore,” he was heard to mutter as he was led away.

Phone rage is now a bigger problem than work stress, schizophrenia or depression. People have become so immersed in their emotional ties to the smartphone that frustrations are often taken out on the device itself. Phones are being thrown out of windows, flushed down toilets, and in one case, even smashed with a hatchet in Times Square.

On the other hand, some people are so attached to their phones that they give them names and buy them virtual ‘gifts’ from the network, using real money. This is a great new revenue stream for operators, since the ring-tone fad has disappeared.

Stories have surfaced of brawls over ‘phone envy’, relationships being destroyed by phones and a case of a nervous breakdown when a teenage celebrity lost her ‘special’ phone.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

It’s an emotional thing

Your phone could make you ‘go postal’. That’s because the smartphone has become such an integral part of our lives, we feel naked without it. We have lost sight of the fact that it’s just a piece of technology, just a device that enables us to stay connected to our loved ones and our lives. It’s our office, our bank, our entertainment and news channel, our friend.

Which means that we can’t do without it. And when it lets us down, we get upset. When we get bad news we blame the phone. And when it’s all great, we love it to death. “There’s this frustration that you are really dependent on these things that you don’t understand and that you have no idea how to fix,” says Kent Norman, a researcher at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Automation Psychology and Decision Processes. “We place so much trust in technology that it gets a little scary.”

The recounting of one’s personal technological Armageddon is often desperate and emotional. A recent survey by Norman found that as many as one out of 10 users have hit, kicked or otherwise abused their equipment. Many consumers are frustrated by the cellular service providers, and their levels of customer service. Sometimes even simple things, like making a call, aren’t always possible.

1999: Rage against the machines
A quarter of all under-25-year-olds admit they have kicked their computer. Three quarters admit that they swear at their computers.

In a more extreme example, four frustrated users take three PCs and two printers out to a firing range and destroy them with a variety of weapons. “We successfully turned each piece of equipment into Swiss cheese. We pumped over 1000 rounds of .223, 9mm,.45, and 7.62×39 into them. We also used a .50 to start things off. The printers were by far the most enjoyable to shoot because when the bullet would rip through the drum unit and the fuser, it would create a nice visual. We did end up getting it to start on fire, then we put the fire out with more bullets. For the 4 of us, it was 1 year of frustration coming out. It felt good.”

2004: Techno stress
Rage against technology spreads to cell phones, PlayStations, DVDs, iPods and ATMs. Hi tech gifts over the festive season are found to significantly elevate post-holiday stress levels in those that received them.

Websites counsel stressed-out consumers of high-tech products, and offer advice on how to deal effectively with the emotional aspects of the problem, usually by calling for an expert to resolve the issue!

2005: I love my camera phone, I hate my carrier
A UK restaurant worker’s life is saved when he is bitten by a deadly Brazilian spider. The photo he snapped with his camera phone enables medical staff to identify the spider and administer an effective antidote.

Russell Crowe, the 41-year-old actor and star of Gladiator, is arrested and charged with assault after allegedly throwing a telephone at a hotel employee in Manhattan, after failing to reach his wife in Australia.

Seth Godin posts this item in his blog: “I met the chief designer for Nokia at TED [Technology Entertainment Design Convention]. Marko is a great guy, but it was fascinating to watch the interactions he had with people. Every single person he met came up to him, pulled out a cell phone and began whining. Mostly, though, people didn’t hate their phones. They hated their carrier. I know. I hate T Mobile.”

2007: Smartphones the new PCs
Smartphones and ‘tablets’ have taken over almost all of the functionality of the laptop PC of 2004. Business owners are heard to say “If I lose my phone I’m in deep trouble – my whole life is on that thing.” Smartphones are used for email, customer information, sales orders, banking and more, including secure authorization of financial transactions.

With always-on access to the internet at broadband speeds, and the cost of communication tending towards zero, anyone without a functioning, configured smartphone is just not part of the connected economy, or society. Mobile viruses only exacerbate the problem, leaving people feeling personally violated.

2008: Phone rage on the increase
With increased sophistication of smartphones and their network service offerings, people are more and more ‘at the mercy of their phones’. This dependency increases phone rage incidents.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable. Teens use text messages as everyman’s email – the written communication gives them greater comfort and reduces the stress of face to face and emotional voice calls. Without this security blanket, teens lose their ability to communicate effectively with their peers, while those that exploit the technology see their self-esteem and confidence levels rise.

2009: Going ‘cellular’
As affective responses to technology usage increase, the love-hate relationship with our phones and phone service deepens. Phone rage becomes one of the biggest psychological problems among knowledge workers.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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