My Computer Hates Me, a handbook for the technology-phobic that came out in the year Y2K (that’s 2000, folks) is filled with frustrations about now-antiquated technology. Still, its sentiment still rings true for many people. The phrase “my computer hates me” is a self-fulfilling prophecy—the more you say it, the more you condition yourself to be beholden to computational power. I suspect that women utter this helpless phrase more frequently than men do, thereby putting themselves in passive roles when it comes to technology. But the computer is not beyond anyone’s comprehension, and we should take care not to forget it.
As a math student, I saw how differently men and women approach math, science, and technology. The girls in my class, all two of them (click here to read why the science and tech fields still don’t draw more women), were much more thoughtful and much less impetuous; these are excellent qualities for problem solving, but only in moderation. While the girls were carefully considering their math proofs or computer codes, the boys were quick to try literally anything. While the girls thought carefully about their counterarguments, the boys argued vehemently, unburdened by the fact that they might be wrong, and unwilling to let go until the bitter end.
To be clear, the girls were just as good, and I am happy to say that we struck a balance between careful thinking, healthy doubt, and conviction. But it’s not easy to do, and many women still assume that technical subjects are beyond them. (Although we have so many women proving the opposite: Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, for example.) When it comes to quantitative fields, where logical arguments are the currency, it pays to be a little cavalier and stubborn.
But if it’s not in your nature to be cavalier, you may find yourself doubting your technical ability, and chalking your problem up to “my computer hates me.” Let’s restate the obvious: Your computer cannot hate you. In fact, only recently have researchers been able to create artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to display signs of human emotion. If the most cutting-edge robots cannot feel genuine human emotion, certainly your PC can’t do it either.
Of course this does not mean that working on a computer can’t bring on serious rage. I work with a piece of software every day that I openly abhor. I get angry, shake my fists at it, and tell my troubles to anyone who will listen. The solution to my technological woes always reveals itself as some trivial detail that I don’t think is important, but is absolutely crucial to the software. Basically, when I withhold information from the computer, it stops working. My computer-modeling-co-worker put it best when he said, “I always have to remind myself that the computer and I are working together.”
To heed this advice, you need to remember one more thing: You aren’t going to break your computer. The fear of breaking a computer is again much more common in women than in men; sadly, even young girls in today’s tech-driven age are more hesitant with computers than little boys.
But your machine is not in any danger. Remember that the computer relies on you for everything. Regardless of how you may feel, it is your computer; you bought it, you plugged it in, you turned it on, you use it in your daily life. If you encounter a problem, remember that it is most likely something you did. You clicked the button that caused the error, and you can click the button that will fix it.
Your computer will live to not hate you another day.