You may think you have problems, but your computer has problems too: viruses, hackers, and a hard drive that’s never big enough. How modern computers cope with their problems can teach us a lot about how we handle our own struggles.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
What is the name of the most successful computer virus ever? I don’t know and you probably don’t either. Successful computer viruses survive best when they’re undetected, quietly stealing personal information and processing power from infected computers without the least bit of suspicion on the part of the users. Once a computer virus is identified, it’s well on its way to extinction as antivirus programs are upgraded to identify and destroy the virus.
Away from the computer, personal problems sneak up on all of us. Our health can slowly degrade as we continue to wolf down high-fat, processed food and avoid the gym. A divorce may be the result of years of mild, unintentional neglect of the relationship. A once-ideal career may become a dead-end job as a changing employment market erodes the value of specific skills and experience. Could it be that our computers are more vigilant at keeping themselves healthy and updated than most human beings? Self-reflection — checking in on one’s health, professional standing, and relationships — is the first step to making sure silent problems don’t lead to personal “crashes.”
Almost as soon as computers were connected to the Internet, there were those who wanted to break in and do harm to online systems. Very quickly, “firewalls” were developed that prevented outsiders from connecting indiscriminately. Having policies for who can and cannot connect and what they can do online made computers safer.
In our own lives, we open ourselves to the world in many different ways, and not always for the better. Many people have “toxic friends” that are far more trouble than they are worth. Our parents, even though they love us, can send us messages that undermine our confidence and autonomy. Watching the evening news each night can fill our minds with endless tragedy beyond our ability to change. Advertisers clamor to stuff our heads with impulses to buy the glittering gadget of the day that will become tomorrow’s clutter or garbage. In human relationships, firewalls are called boundaries, and they are the rules we set for ourselves about who we will and won’t allow into our lives and what we will accept from these people. Building a personal “information firewall” or going on an “information diet” can block out negative messages that do not serve us.
Keep the Best, Delete the Rest
If you run out of space on your computer, you’ve got two options: buy a bigger hard drive or delete something. Opting for the bigger hard drive works…for a while. Oddly, no matter how big the hard drive or how many times we upgrade, it still manages to fill up somehow. Over the years, I’ve grown in my respect for the “delete” key and learned to use it with brutal effectiveness.
The same goes for our homes and our calendars. If someone fills up their home with stuff, getting a bigger place or a self-storage unit rarely solves the problem. Time proves to be even more intractable. If one’s calendar is overfull, there is simply nowhere (no-when?) to retreat. Long-term, the only solution for our data, our homes, and our calendars is knowing what we value most and editing out everything else that doesn’t fit.
Connection is Everything
In 2010, it’s hard to imagine a computer not connected to the Internet. Once the Internet got rolling, computers stopped being primarily about computing and started being conduits for communication. I believe computers are about connection because people want to connect more than almost anything else. Apart from Google, the most popular website as of this writing is Facebook, a site that does little else than allow people to keep up with other people. Facebook beat out several other competing social networking platforms perhaps because it made connecting easier and more fun. If we’re not connecting in our offline lives, it makes sense to look at what’s blocking our progress. Have we made connecting part of our daily lives, like brushing our teeth or checking email? Do we have activities that we enjoy that also foster connection? And of course, is “screen time” in front of the computer crowding out “face time” spent with friends, family, and loves?
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by