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It’s the digital equivalent of rocking up at school in your underwear. You type a DM on your phone and send it.Several minutes later, you break out into a cold sweat as you realise that you posted that message, the one that was definitely not meant for anyone else, as a tweet.
You delete it, but you know that it’s too late, and that somewhere, there is a spinning desktop fan, and a bucket of manure, and the two are going to make contact sooner rather than later.
Technology is meant to make our lives easier and more productive, but, inevitably, it has also led to new forms of paranoia. Thanks to multitasking, we never give our full attention to anything, which means that it’s terrifyingly easy to slip up. This has led to the fear of disaster of epic proportions, mainly because disasters of epic proportions can and do happen.
Most of us are familiar with these 7 common forms of tech paranoia:
- Reply all. “Reply all” is the most insidious of all email functions. Not only does it irritate every single one of your colleagues, who have to put up with your inane responses to the receptionist’s group mail about the Golf with its lights left on, it also leads to career-ending moves. How many notorious “reply all” mails meant for one set of eyes only have been passed around the planet over the years? Read the horror stories here all-email-disasters and you will never click on “reply all” ever again.
- The SMS sent to the wrong number. Along with the reply all function, one of the oldest forms of digital calamity. Sometimes it’s the message sent to the wrong name in your address book (I know of a PA who accidentally sent a very rude SMS about her boss… to her boss. Who is now her former boss.) Sometimes it’s just a wrong number. Last year I received a virtual essay from a woman literally disowning her daughter.
“I no longer consider you my daughter” were her words, as I recall. It must have been emotionally wrenching to type it out (especially on a tiny little keypad), so the fact that it went to a complete stranger made the whole thing both terribly sad and rather pathetic. There’s a great word for this kind of thing: bathos.
- Address suggestions. It struck me, as I nearly mailed my ex-husband instead of the CEO when the address of the former appeared at the top of suggested names as I started typing — clearly Entourage has a sick sense of humour — that this is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
- Phantom Cellphone Syndrome. Isn’t it funny how, when you’re drying your hair or sculpting an ice swan with an angle grinder, you’re convinced your cellphone is ringing? Especially when you’re waiting for your client to call? As the New York Times notes, people “now live in a constant state of phone vigilance“.
I call it the Phantom Cellphone Syndrome. This “psycho-acoustic” phenomenon has a scientific explanation: the human ear is conditioned to pick up sounds between 1000 and 6000 hertz, the range in which babies cry. The explanation for phantom vibrations, which I experience often, is less clear.
- The DM sent as a tweet. It’s horribly easy to make this mistake, especially when using a mobile Twitter app. I’ve done it once or twice, and though I wasn’t skinnering, just the thought of it was enough to give me palpitations. When sending DMs on my phone, I always double, triple and then quadruple check. You can never be too obsessive when it comes to this sort of thing.
- Copy and paste. I once accidently pasted a paragraph from a document I was working on for a client into the forum where I was chatting at the same time. I realised what I’d done and deleted it within a couple of minutes but not before at least one person noticed. It didn’t contain the launch codes for the Ballistic Missile Defence System and it happened many years ago, but my blood still runs cold when I think of it.
- The tell-tale tweet. Or status update. Or Foursquare checkin. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote a short story called The Tell-tale Heart in which a murderer who dismembers his victim is given away by the beating of the dead man’s heart under the floorboards. How many forgetful types have become unemployed as a result of that tweet about the awesome time they’re having at the local cheese-tossing festival when they told their boss they were in bed with cyclic vomiting syndrome?
As technology evolves, so will the attendant paranoia. Geotagging, NFC, Augmented Reality: they will all be a recipe for those little slips that morph into personal catastrophe on a truly monumental scale. The butterfly in the Amazon rainforest will flap its wings, and who knows where the hurricane will strike.