Electronic Depression Syndrome

ELECTRONIC Depression Syndrome or EDS is a novel term which I have coined to describe my own state of mind after losing two hard disks on separate, networked personal desktop computers within ten minutes. Thanks to the non maintenance of the main feeder by Goa University-while working on my regular PC, rapid power surges sent the machine into a loop damaging the software and the hardware. Having finally seen the dreaded blue screen on the monitor I switched off the PC while breaking in a cold sweat. The urgency of the work demanded that I could switch on the other PC. But it was not my day. Everything was Ok for a few minutes but then like bombarded by an invisible electromagnetic pulse the other PC also went in a loop owing to rapid power surges. Then it was dead. Within ten minutes I lost two PCs. Since then I have been fighting off the EDS.

The technician gave the final verdict – “Sir, your hard disk is gone.” We could not retrieve the data. Readers may wonder whether I did not regularly take backup of my data. The fact is that the backup was scheduled the same week. My PCs were connected to a three phase underground power supply, through circuit breakers, surge protectors and UPS. But power surges like the ones described above were not experienced during the past five years. So the loss was unexpected.

This is not an isolated experience. People cannot depend in Goa on the quality of the power supply and there is no provision to compensate the power consumers if they lose their expensive gadgets. The world has turned increasingly mechanocentric and mechanodependent. Our material comforts are impossible without uninterrupted power supply.

Machines driven by electric power can function as certified by their manufacturers only under guaranteed and quality power supply. Any machine can tolerate some minor glitches or voltage fluctuations. But when the interruptions become frequent and unpredictable then the machines fail. Work becomes impossible. Add computers and Internet to our dependency-once you get used to these facilities, there is no looking back. But a time comes when machines fail, all of a sudden, without warning and then you realise that there are limits to their performance. As more and more educated people are turning to computers there is a new phenomenon depressions caused by computer failures and the data loss.

So far the psychiatrists and the anthropoethologists (who study human behaviour) have focused on stress created by the use of machines and the working conditions. But they have overlooked the new maladies-depressions created by the failure of electronic gadgets like the computers. People who have been inconvenienced by non-functional telephone lines or TV cable connections would understand the level of irritation caused by such failures.

Technology is an extension of the human consciousness. We have come to look at our favourite machines like the computers, TV sets, mobile handsets as our electronic, non living pets of some sort. When these pets fall sick or are dead then the feelings which the users get are akin to mourning. This is an age of electronic depressions which we can define as a set of conditions which develops after the failure of a microprocessor/chip dependent machine abruptly, without warning. If a machine gets old and shows sign of retarded performance then the user can at least anticipate some trouble. But when a healthy machine goes dead, then it is a technological shock. Would humans in future grieve over the loss of their pet machines?

It is a peculiar feeling when you suddenly realize that you have to start all over again – install new hard disk, load the new software, configure the add-ons, streamline the machine to give optimal performance. The grief becomes intense when you feel the full impact of the data loss-all your work which is not backed up is gone, permanently, forever. There is also a limit to backups because hardly any computer user does it on a regular basis. It is generally a mass backup when one knows that disk space is getting crowded. So, the computer users have very limited options. It is my guess that bad power supply in Goa has been causing incalculable loss to computers and electronic hardware. So far, nobody has surveyed the situation.

It is our common experience that unpredictable power interruptions make the UPS useless. You may go crazy, if you start work with all seriousness and the UPS sounds a signal that the backup power is depleted. Then you wait for the power to be restored. When the supply is restored, you need to pray hard that it will not fail again. With trembling fingers you switch on the system. Everything is fine. You smile, believing that the nightmare is finally over. You continue on your unfinished job-and suddenly the power gets interrupted. At that very moment what would be the state of your mind, disappointment, anger and frustration? And if such failures become frequent, if you cannot describe state of your mind properly-use EDS next time. I guess that the next stage of EDS would be cybertechnophobia-or losing faith in the electronic machines.

We have come to view computers as essential electronic equipments which store and process our data. We consider these machines as our friends. But when these friends fail-one may get EDS. There is no point in rationalising about failures of microprocessor driven machines. Generally every computer user takes maximum care to maintain his pet PC. But he is helpless regarding the power supply. The government of Goa has ambitious plans to network the whole state through broadband. This plan is useless without good power supply.

Before the first cable for broadband is laid down the power distribution network needs to be improved. It is not possible for all households to install inverters and portable power generators. People may purchase subsidised PCs in large numbers, only to realise later that these machines break down on account of unreliable power supply. Having tasted the bitter fruits of such failures, I caution the computer users to be prepared for an attack of EDS. It can hit you in Goa anytime. It may be better to invest in a good laptop to avoid power failure related EDS.

by Nandkumar Kamat