by Neil Slade
Author of The Amazing Brain Music Adventure

As the web master of a reasonably popular web, as well as being a moderator of both an email list group and a bulletin board, I get a lot of email both business and personally related. What I have noticed is what I believe is a new psychological phenomenon given birth along with the phenomenal growth of email. This is Computer Rage.

Like Road Rage, Computer Rage seems to be the result of a technological environment that allows certain individuals to suddenly let forth a burst of hostility that would be normally held under control or suppressed. In Road Rage the modern shelter of the hard steel and glass automobile gives an individual a sense of security and a sense of power. The modern car provides an illusion is that one is safely removed and alone to do what one likes in this personal universe. And in this safe environment, one can fire off a salvo of pent up frustration and anger, sometimes boiling over into physically destructive expression- Road Rage. It is an explosive venting of deep levels of emotion. The target of rage is pelted with insult and injury far greater than can be truly rationalized. It's Apes on Crack.

Similarly, Computer Rage is the child of technology. In the environment of the computer screen and keyboard one can also feel detached, and safe. The computer allows one to feel like "This is my universe, I am alone, and I control what I see and what I send". And similar to the Road Rage scenario, the illusion of detachment can allow one to express pent-up rage and frustration because "You can't get at me from here".

The extreme side of this is computer users who deliberately vandalize and destroy web sites and even distant computers and their programs. But this is a fairly rare phenomenon given the vast numbers of computer owners in the population. What I am referring to here is when the seemingly calm and reasonable person suddenly uses their computer to launch insult and hateful commentary across the net, and for little logical or rational reason. It's just easy and convenient.

I have been the target of such Internet lashings more than once, And each time it occurs, I marvel at the remarkable way in which a person, so obviously under some level of personal stress, blames me or verbally assaults me with such unabashed fervor. It reminds me of the portion in Orwell's 1984 where people gather for the "2 Minutes Hate" and viscously scream and carry on like rabid dogs at the "enemy" on the screen. The image on the screen is the target of resentment and fury, and of course, unable to strike back. Screaming and raging at this two-dimensional image is a seemingly efficient and safe way to get the sewers in the brain unclogged. (Of course, it's all pointless. Orwell is showing us that his repressed society is missing the real problem/target altogether; their own political and social powerlessness.)

"Like 'Road Rage,' the perpetrator finds
a temporary sense of release and relief,
but a deeper examination will show
nothing is really solved..."

In my case, I write and publish regular and numerous articles and email list bulletins. I of course never sign anybody up to my email list, they must voluntarily do it themselves. And, it should be very clear from my web site what type and style of articles I write. Naturally, one need not stay at my web site nor even visit it to begin with. Never the less, every once in a while a person either dislikes my opinion or an article I publish, and rather than just change the "channel", this person feels that "Yes! I will tell this person (me) they are so completely full of s-it, and I will tell them in a way that deliberately hurts them and I'll feel better and POWERFUL!" It is rage that technology has made safe. Computer Rage.

Using a computer, people will say things and say them in a way that they would never say person to person. It is the venting of frustration, disappointment, and failure that suddenly finds a target that apparently can't strike back: One is raging at little dots on a glass screen--- so it's "okay". As in the "2 Minutes Hate", a computer rage delivers a temporary sense of release and relief, but a deeper examination will show nothing is really solved and the source of anger lies within the individual with his/her inability to cope or guide one's life situation.

Today I read in the paper, that a young man had recently pleaded a defense of feeling "Internet Safe", for having made threats over the email towards a student at Columbine High School. His lawyer pleaded the defendant felt "It's just on the computer, so it isn't real." Computer Rage strikes.

Out of thousands of emails I receive, only a minute fraction are indeed Computer Rage. The odds are probably the same as Road Rage; you pass thousands of people on the road before you come across a temporarily insane character out of control. And of course, the best course of action is just to go on your way. "Don't Poke A Skunk" is very good advice.

Unfortunately, no matter how detached you try and be, when someone is negative towards you, even on a cold computer screen, you feel it. And in society, there is so much thrashing about, it's nearly impossible to stay completely out of harms way. Add to this instant access to millions of individuals on the Internet and you're in a technological pool of humanity where it is inevitable that angry people will hurl eggs at you for no reason. Additionally, if you are an email list moderator, you are an especially vulnerable target, since thousands of people get your email address with every post. And, if somebody has a bad day, nothing easier than for someone to curse you out since your email address is like a big billboard advertising "Kick Me!"

The same modern technology that allows Computer Rage also allows us to easily get drawn into pointless fighting that feeds on itself. One can quickly click back into reactive self-defense/counter attack as you type- the keyboard clicks along as your brain clicks downward into fight or flight neurocircuitry.

Involving yourself in such computer hijinks instantly shuts off all higher intelligence that your brain is capable of, rational evaluation, creativity, intuition, and even access to your brain's paranormal activity. You can feel the higher centers of the brain shut down as you get dumber and dumber, adding insult to insult. It is all too easy to instantly get involved in a computer generated firefight than goes on and on and on like a microchip cat fight with no end in sight. The reality is that you can't rationalize with an wild and irrational emailer. Experience will show that if someone throws a barrage of insulting verbal stones at you the best revenge is just a simple automatic click forward................. "Delete".

There is nothing very modern about any kind of Computer Rage at all. It is just the primitive reptilian portion of the brain expressing itself through a measly sliver of modern brain. Our new space age tool of computer mail allows us easy expression and communication across the entire globe in an instant. But we must remember that especially this kind of communication requires mutual respect from the very beginning and throughout. If not, we have just devolved into apes throwing electronic rocks at each other.

-Neil Slade
The Amazing Brain Music Adventure

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