After several weeks of persistent information IT problems, I’ve invented a Technology Failure Stress Scale that deals specifically with technology failure and the inability of many human beings to cope. Unlike the better-known Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which measures the health impact of major life events like death of a spouse and divorce, mine is unscientific and highly subjective. Well, if it’s OK for leaders of major western governments to be unscientific and subjective, why not me?
The Holmes and Rahe stress inventory is still widely used, despite being created in 1967 (it mentions a mortgage of $20,000). The R&H test allocates points to each stressor. You take the stress test and tally up your numbers. Anything over 300 makes you highly susceptible to developing an illness. Death of a spouse (100), divorce (73), marital separation (65), imprisonment (63) and death of a close family member (63) are the top five. I was always under the misapprehension that moving house was in the top 10, but it apparently rates only 20 points. Try telling that to the renters, furiously scrubbing and vacuuming so they can get their bond back.
GPs use the Social Readjustment Rating Scale invented by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe to assess patients presenting in a highly stressed state. GPs also use the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a more recent psychological test to assess anxiety and depression. The test asks the patient to perceive how they feel, ranging from not at all or hardly ever, to all the time, about their moods and reactions to situations. The latter is the test used to decide if you qualify for six rebated consultations over 12 months with a registered psychologist
The PSS has also been used by researchers trying to establish the links between technology and social media and psychophysiological well-being. If this subject interests you, try these links.
I was going to write about Brexit this week, a topic I have been assiduously avoiding since the silliness began in 2016. Then my laptop started misbehaving (again) after a clean install of Windows. My technology failure stress levels went off the scale.
On Saturday, when I went to retrieve my emails from an Outlook backup – it downloading 9,000+ emails (twice) into one folder. What happened to my carefully curated sub-folders? Moreover, new emails started arriving, in pairs. Time to call in a technology failure expert, who did his expert thing, then advised me to buy a new computer. Thanks to this friendly chap, my technology failure stress levels dropped from 275 (see test below), to around 75.
FOMM’s Technology Failure Stress Scale
1/ Blue screen of death, hard drive failure, complete loss of data due to hard drive failure, virus: 100 pts (deduct 50 points if you made a reliable back-up)
2/ Recovery but with poor prognosis/replacement recommended: 50
4/ Process of reinstalling programs and data: 45
5/ (Unbudgeted) cost of repair/replacement: 35
Operating system misbehaviour and user error
6/ Accidently deleting important files/emails or archives (or hitting send-all when that’s not what you meant to do): 60 (deduct 30 if you have backups)
7 Windows updates automatically, closing down when you are in the middle of editing your round-Australia video or watching the last 10 minutes of the final episode of Breaking Bad: 55
8/ Video/Music editing programs crash before you go file/save (see above): 65
9/ ITunes updates then you can’t find your music: 55 (some would rate this 100)
10/ Software manufacturers stop supporting something on which you have become dependent: 45
I’ll leave mobile phones, smart TVs, remote controls, Bluetooth and GPS devices for another time.
Rate your overall Technology Failure Stress (from a total of 550)
More than 300: your spouse will have an 80% chance of finding you irritating. Take the dog or yourself for a long walk. Unplug the computer at the wall if a storm is brewing.
200-299: your spouse will still be finding you irritating. Take the dog or yourself for a long walk. Eat chocolate.
100-199: This is a sign that you are sufficiently tech-savvy and adaptable but still prefer to leave it to the experts.
0-99: You either eschew computers or use the free ones at the library.
Technology Failure aside, what about Brexit?
As you’d gather, I get distracted when things get stressful and a bit beyond my ken, so it was initially hard to put together a coherent narrative on the topic of Brexit (short for Britain exiting the European Union).
Why should we care, you might ask? This is some far away turf war about trade and national identity. It may also be about Britain wanting to secure its borders as more refugees teem into Europe.
Basically, the politicians thought the Brits would say Yes to staying in the EU instead of No, we’re leaving. Between the 2016 referendum and now, the British parliament has been working on an agreement which will cut ties with the EU (and cost the UK about £37 billion), call it their Brexit fee).
In the ensuing years since the referendum, there has been considerable social discord (the vote was 52/48, after all), economic uncertainty and a tougher time for Britain’s poor, the perpetual victims of economic downturns.
The European Union was formed in 1972, forging together 28 countries with (in theory) a single currency, freedom of trade and movement between countries. The EU has its own parliament and all members have to pay to enjoy the benefits of economic unity. Over time, Britain became disenchanted with the return on its (annual) contribution of £13 billion (2017). The UK gets back about £4 billion a year as ‘public sector receipts’, so it can be seen that the UK pays more into the EU than it gets back. This does not take into account the harder to quantify benefits of jobs, trade and investment.
The Brexit debate has sharply defined what the Irish and the Scots had known all along – the United Kingdom is not all that united. The Scots voted to stay in the EU and so did Northern Ireland. Thus far, the debate has been vigorous between Leavers and Remainers. Of the Leavers, 94% believe Britain will be better off without the EU; 96% of Remainers think Britain will be worse off exiting the EU.
The Guardian’s monthly reports on UK economic indicators shows that business investment has declined for three consecutive quarters. The housing market is at its weakest level since 2012 and retail sales continue to be sluggish, with visible signs of business distress on UK high streets. There have been reports elsewhere of companies moving their headquarters from England to Asia (Dyson and Sony).
The UK government is this week voting on amendments to PM Theresa May’s 585-page Accord (which was voted down on January 15). The amended deal has to be approved and then accepted by the EU. If the EU rejects May’s plan, England will be left to deal with a fragmented kingdom, Brexit representing, as commentator Fintan O’Toole observed, ‘the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order’.
At divisive, stressful times like these, one could imagine Theresa May and her staff would be quite happy if Outlook crashed and they had an excuse not to look at their emails.
More reading: Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole’s perspicacious view of ‘Brextinct’ and the fissiparous four-nation state is an enlightening read.