Spooked by Tech

Friday the 13th gets me thinking about superstitions. While it might not seem like it, the tech world is not short on them at all. Even those of us who work with technology and computers all day will admit that, sometimes, all that the bugs and things that do not seem to ever work right really need is some Voodoo, a Shaman, or a plain old good Exorcism. Just what is a superstition? According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a belief or way of believing that is based on fear of the unknown and faith in magic or luck: a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck.” So instead of giving some tech tips today, our blog focuses on some unusual technology-based superstitions. Just do not tell me or anyone else who works in the tech field that these are not real.

The biggest unexplained phenomena of the technology world is the way technology ALWAYS breaks down when Mercury is in retrograde. This has to do with astrology, so if you need to replace your computer or cell phone, do check with a horoscope expert first to see if the stars are aligned properly. I myself am not a big believer in horoscopes, but this Mercury thing, it is real. Over the years, I have come to see that a pattern does indeed exist and at this point, coincidence is a bit too unreal. So much so that I consult with the library’s resident Mercury expert (aka, the director), on when this will occur so I know when to expect a slew of broken printers. Aside from the uncanny ability of technology to consistently wilt in the face of Mercury, I put this one first on the list since, you guessed it, Mercury is currently in retrograde until May 22. I know, I had to replace my TV last week (note, said library Mercury guru reminded me that purchasing technology also should not be done when a certain planet looks like it is spinning the wrong way – what a retrograde is, by the way). The bad news is, Mercury retrogrades 3-4 times a year. The good news is, we are all suffering together. Beyond technology, Mercury tends to make people cranky and can lead to mistakes in legal documents, so be on the lookout and take a few deep breaths now and then.
Spooked by Tech: Grounds For Sculpture exhibit
This work at the Grounds For Sculpture could easily be a group of IT workers trying to figure out how to deal with a brutal Mercury retrograde, perhaps by sacrificing some mice.

Personifying technology is another type of behavior that many technology users undertake in an almost superstitious manner. While doing research for this article, I came across a blog post published on Tech Republic by Jaime Hernandez in 2009 that explains the various ways humans treat technology as if they are bona fide co-workers and not in a man-working-with-machines environment. Hernandez points out that behavior such as mashing buttons like you are scolding a child, blaming the technology for user errors (it deleted my files!), assuming the computer has feelings toward you (good or bad), believing that computers are all-knowing and engaging in wishful or magical thinking to solve problems are all ways we use to make technology seem more human and explain some of its faults. My favorite behavior Hernandez describes is the way some users feel guilty when a piece of technology fails, as if they hit some magical keys or had the power to kill their tablet when they tried to turn it on and the screen blew up. The guilt is almost as if you have wounded your best friend, you fear you or it will be scarred for life. Sure, we all feel a kinship of sorts with our tech, but the reality is, most likely it had a short circuit and, yes, will be scarred for life in the sense that you probably need to replace it (and the real feeling here is not guilt, but disappointment that you need to spend money to buy a new one). At least if this type of thing happens when Mercury is in retrograde, you have something else to blame.

All those crazy scams that still find suckers and their lesser evils, chain letters and chain Facebook posts, are another example of how technology brings out a superstitious quirk in human psychology. OK, I am actually slipping some tech tips in here after all. Specifically, be skeptical of anything you read that suggests you will live longer, fall in love, or be given $1 million by a Nigerian prince if you just do this one, really, really important thing right now. What is amazing is not that people still try to pull these scams, it is that people still fall for them. In many cases, yes, these are new technology users and they are not aware of some of these decades-old hoodwink attempts or that passing them along annoys most of their friends. Yet, when you really think of it, don’t you have a bit of a belief, even if it flashes by in a nanosecond, that maybe you will curse yourself in some way by not following the advice? That may be why, aside from sending money to the Nigerian prince (which is hazardous since you are giving personal information and money to a criminal), most of us will indeed extend one of those harmless make-a-wish-and-in-49-minutes-something-nice-will-happen-to-you chains. If you are at all curious as to why we do this, the University of Miami (Ohio) has an article on their website about what motivates people to send and forward chain letters.

One thing the above referenced article about chain letters mentions is that, in general, our technology superstitions are rooted in traditional ones that have carried over into the online world. More examples of that abound in other ways we are superstitious about our technology and you may not even realize you are doing it. For example, the idea of having a lucky rabbit’s foot or some other trinket is often carried over in a user insisting on keeping an old mouse, cell phone case or other accessory whenever they upgrade a device. Or how some users will insist on doing things exactly the same way they have for years, despite upgrades to make things easier. On this front, I cannot tell you how amazed I am that some people, upon getting a new computer, will immediately change the display to classic or some other way of making Windows 10 look and feel like Windows 98, without even trying to figure out the new version, citing convenience as the reason. Another common superstition is the ritual. Perhaps you feel you always have to turn on the monitor before the computer or turn everything on and then get a cup of coffee so the computer “warms up” for you. Finally, there is the idea of looking for or avoiding traditional lucky and bad luck charms. One such example of this comes from M/C Journal, an Australian peer-reviewed journal on media and culture, which ran an article about China and cell phone numbers. Users will try to obtain so-called magic cell phone numbers and this has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has spread to South Korea and drives some cell phone vendors a little crazy trying to match numbers to a user.

If you prefer to avoid technology while Mercury is still in retrograde and would like some information on superstitions from the library, we do have some books for you to consider. First, you will need to consult our catalog; but if you can survive that, all you need to worry about is papercuts.

- Laura N.


  1. Survive the catalog - certainly a challenge in and of itself.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ocean-in-a-Bottle Craft for Kids

Neil Gaiman Ruined My Life

Happy National Peanut Month!