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Facebook Fling and Twitter Toss: The Risks of Social Computing to Your Computer

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
October 2009 Issue
August 26, 2009

Facebook Fling and Twitter Toss:
The Risks of Social Computing to Your Computer

There was a time the greatest risk to a laptop at a coffee shop was the menu. Everyone knows that coffee and keyboards do not mix.

Only a few short years ago, you took a computer to a coffee shop, bookstore, or all-night diner to work. The laptop was for business or school and your greatest worry was locating a free power outlet. Other than the iced mochas I love, tripping on the power cord was the only serious risk to my laptop.

Along came wireless networks and the “Social Web” of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Now, the greatest risk to laptops seems to be rage.

According to an August report on CNet, a technology news Web site, computer technicians suddenly find they have to explain to laptop users that warranties don’t cover damage caused by computing while angry. Techs have started to refer to the incidents by a series of humorous descriptions including “Facebook Fury” and “Tweet Rage.”

Examples cited by technicians frequently included jealousy and online arguments.

Seeing a “flirty” comment on your boyfriend’s profile or a photo of your girlfriend with someone you don’t know seems to be a reason to fling a laptop off a table. Apparently, small netbooks are also easily thrown — even in a crowded coffee shop. I can only imagine the reaction of other patrons as they duck to avoid a flying computer.

The techs also report netbooks and notebooks being abused as coasters for hot coffee. Heat damages the LCD screen, causing discoloration or dead pixels. Sometimes the heat is enough to slightly melt the plastic case.

Screens are fragile and expensive to repair.

Asking my friends, I located one who admitted to slamming a laptop shut in anger with his iPod “earbuds” near the spacebar. It turns out that a replacement screen for a large laptop is about $500, including labor.

“I received an instant message from a coworker telling me the work schedule had changed, after I had made plans.”

While I understand how annoying it is to have plans change, slamming a laptop lid shut seems to be an expensive expression of anger.

I’m sure thousands of lids are closed with various items still on the computer keyboard. Honestly, I have started to close the lid of my laptop with a highlighter on the keyboard. If you’re closing the lid slowly, you notice something isn’t quite right. But if you are angry, slamming the lid down, the result isn’t going to be pretty.

I have also dropped a notebook computer. Though the corner was dented, there was no other damage. But, this was a computer with a metal case. It seems designed for people like me who trip on power cords. Thankfully, my MacBook Pro has a “MagSafe” power cord that disconnects before the computer is pulled to the floor.

I cannot imagine throwing my computer. I am too cheap to replace it.

Most consumer portable computers are designed to be as light as possible. The smaller and lighter, the more appealing a notebook or netbook is. We’ve gone from large metal “luggable” computers to one-pound plastic netbooks. These are not rugged computers.

I remember the first “portable” computers. They were the size of the large metal IBM PC/XT, with a nine-inch or smaller screen on the front. A Kaypro II weighed more than 25 pounds and came a wheeled carrier. The keyboard was a full-sized, heavy metal monster that snapped to the front to cover the screen and floppy drive. The keyboard alone weighed nearly six pounds — more than my wife’s 12-inch PowerBook.

You’d never through a Kaypro at the coffee shop. I don’t think I could toss one without spinning like a shot-putter. More likely, I’d end up with a hernia. But it is easy to toss a one-pound netbook.

The other major difference is that there was no Web in the 1980s. You could “chat” on CompuServe, but that meant you were attached to a bulky modem by phone cable. Few of my friends, and none of my family, were online.

Social networks have changed everything. Friends and family, not to mention coworkers, are online sharing everything. Sharing has become an impulse.

Wireless networking, cell phones, and Blackberry devices have made it hard to resist being connected at all times and in all places. A day without Facebook or Twitter? My students would rather give up television or video games. Still, maybe they should take breaks from technology.

I had a student who threw her Blackberry in disgust and managed to strike the center of her Sony Vaio’s screen, knocking the computer to the floor. Unlike the cheap netbooks from other vendors, the Sony is an expensive little computer with a lot of nice features. Sadly, it became unhinged when it struck the floor, two halves bouncing apart.

A computer of any size should not be the target of a Blackberry or iPhone.

When I mentioned this column on Facebook, one of my friends observed that some people are simply immature. Throwing things certainly doesn’t convey maturity.

Maybe some anger management would help.

The smaller and lighter, the more fragile a portable computer is. Netbooks tend to be more fragile than their larger siblings.
Computer screens are thin and easily damaged. Never slam a lid shut. Also, make sure there is nothing on the keyboard before you close the lid.
Netbooks are not coasters, Frisbees, or SuperBalls. They definitely don’t fly or bounce very well.


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