Dear Dr. Rob,
I have a problem. Computers are out to destroy me.
I work at a medium sized law firm, and the computers they give us are so old that when they were produced the internet was still just a gleam in Al Gore's eye. They take forever to boot up. They won't open half the word documents sent to me from attorneys at other firms, so I have to respond and ask them to please re-save the document in an older format and send it again. They don't even have solitaire.
Using the copy machine requires a 6 digit attorney ID, an 8 digit client code, and then a 4 digit matter number. 18 digits to make a single copy. And, if you accidentally get just one number wrong, you can expect a call from the boss when he reviews the client bills. Which of course are processed weeks after you messed up the code, and so there's little chance of remembering what you were copying, and for which client.
Then there's the freaking Blackberry. The one piece of firm technology that works occasionally is the one god damn thing I wish would break. I wake up nearly every morning to that creepy blinking red light letting me know that my day has already been ruined. But, it's on AT&T, so of course, whenever I want to use it for something non-soul crushing, there's a service interruption.
I need help, Dr. Rob. If one more obnoxious technological blunder enters my life, I might just go Samir Nagheenanajar on the printer. Or would that be good therapy? Sometimes I wish the machine revolution would just hurry up and happen so I can be done with this shit. Torrent! Torrent! Torrent!
More Afraid of Computers Than the GOP is Afraid of Sharia Law
Let's talk a little bit about wants vs. needs.
Last year, for reasons that are still unclear to me, my iPhone broke. It simply ceased to function. My friend, a colossal tech geek, did everything in his power to fix it, to no avail. That meant getting from the upper east side of Manhattan to the Apple store for a replacement, which is located in midtown. Translation: two subway rides.
If you are unfamiliar with mass transportation in New York City, note that there are no cell phone signals or internet connections underground. What most people with smart phones do is open and update as many applications as possible before descending into the abyss and then listen to music, use the open applications and compose emails to friends and colleagues. Some people just sit and stare at others, but that is ill-advised.
When you've ridden the subway nearly every day for 10 years, your routine becomes second nature. Thus it never occurred to me to make alternate plans for entertaining myself for the 45 minutes I would be underground. I'd been reading a book on the Kindle application all week (which saves your most recent stopping point in the text), so there wasn't an idea to open up anything else on the phone, and therefore it never left my pocket as I walked to the train station. When I finally made the plunge into the darkness of the subway platform, it hit me that I had nothing with which to busy myself. Normally I would hit a small candy stand and buy a newspaper, but the train was just coming into sight and there simply wasn't enough time.
I am not what some people would call a "healthy thinker." When alone, I live a life of distraction: computers, television, movies, sometimes books, and of course iPhones. I'm not technologically savvy by any means, but I rely on modern developments heavily for my own sanity. If left to my own devices, I battle with dark thoughts: death, failure, solitude, existential angst, aging, poverty, famine, war, crime, hate, how ugly I am, etc. And yet here I was, embarking on just under an hour of cognitive torture with nothing to prevent me from silencing my depressive-oriented brain.
I need my cell phone. If I missed an important email it will be a disaster. Maybe someone mentioned me on Twitter. I have to find out who the Yankees are playing tonight. I really should know who my first appointment is tomorrow.
Note the word choices in my self-talk: need, disaster, have to, should. These are all suggestive of an inability to cope or even function with the current state of affairs. This is Need-Based Thinking and is, by definition, a cognitive distortion. While I may be completely miserable and want to kill myself and/or others during this Hell Ride, there is nothing to suggest that the world will cease to exist if my phone isn't working. I may want my technology to take me out of my own head, but by no stretch is it a requirement for survival.
Humans are so good at this type of thinking process that we rarely notice it. We are constantly demanding things that we don't really need. And with technology advancing at such an incredible speed, our expectations grow higher and higher, leading to greater disappointment when it can't deliver. The good news is that when we do, in fact, recognize how over-demanding our minds are functioning, it's fairly easy to correct. I was almost shaking from technology withdrawal by the time I got the Apple store for my replacement phone, but had I recognized a bit sooner that my emotional state as a function of my faulty thinking, I could have challenged myself: I don't have to like this; hell, I can hate that I don't have access to any technological outlets right now, but I won't die from it. So chill the fuck out. That would have worked.
Need-based thinking often leads to some degree of frustration or anger, emotional states that may not serve you well in the legal field, depending on your goals for a particular case or work day. So if you and I are going to have an Author/Reader relationship, I'd like you to notice when you are telling yourself that you need something when, in fact, you simply desire it, crave it or that it would simply improve your life (do this especially on the job). Now one could argue that a broken fax machine or a "failure to send email" prompt is disastrous, that it could alter your work to the point of being demoted or even fired. As a shrink, I'm obviously in no position to make that determination. But challenge yourself to really give serious consideration to the likelihood of what could happen given the limits of technology. Will your day be inconvenienced? Almost certainly. Will you be annoyed? Absolutely. But will it go beyond a pissy boss or bitching opposing counsel? Only you know for sure, but I'm going to guess not. It's this recognition that can move you from a rage-filled mess who is at the mercy of the Machine to the mental giant that we all aspire to be.
Let's call it a day. I need want to play some Cover Orange now.