The tech trauma divide: Are men or women more stressed by gadget disasters?

Rhodri Marsden and Harriet Walker go head to head to find out who copes best.

Rhodri's view

Anyone who's ever initiated a panic-stricken search for a laptop charger, howled into the pages of an impenetrable printer manual or squealed as their phone drops into an unflushed toilet will be well aware of our reliance on technology in the 21st century. So many of our everyday activities depend on processors, code and data; a malfunctioning GPS chip could easily cause someone to burst into tears and start praying for a kindly policeman to turn up and dispense directions.

But how do these technological stresses match up to traditional ones such as losing a passport, ruining an outfit or filling in a tax return? Mindlab, a Sussex-based firm which specialises in emotional analysis, has developed a series of tests to assess precisely this, and ever the willing lab rat, I agreed to undergo them. Their initial findings had indicated that men find technology-related mishaps more upsetting than women, so I asked my colleague Harriet to come along, assuming that I'd crumble into a pathetic heap while she stoically pressed ahead with the experiment.

We were asked to imagine ourselves in 19 scenarios, assisted in our daydreams by a gentle voice-over and a series of images. Our responses were measured in three ways: subjective (rating our own level of distress from 1 to 10), physiological (via a sensor placed on our fingers to measure sweat levels), and neurological (via an unattractive Lycra cap wired up to an electroencephalography device that measured brain activity). By combining these three measurements, Mindlab reckons on being able to judge the intensity of our discomfort – though I was already feeling pretty stressed at having electrodes placed on my scalp by a researcher in a white coat.

But I soon got used to it, and as the tests proceeded it became clear that some scenarios were as unmoving to me as a Commons debate on fish-quota allocations. One of them, a tender retelling of the tale of the death of Bambi's mother, provoked zero emotion – probably because I've never seen the film Bambi, but come on: Bambi's mum is just a drawing, while an iPhone left on a bar in a drunken moment of forgetfulness is a terrifyingly real prospect.

Some of the tech-fail scenarios seemed to me to be easily preventable and I couldn't really muster up much concern. Data loss from a computer or a phone might be something that strikes fear into your heart, but I'm good at backing stuff up and so the test just provoked in me an unbearable level of smugness. The same went for scenarios involving things getting broken or damaged; I don't get emotionally attached to gadgets – and in any case I have insurance.

Richard Quinto from tech-support company geeksquad.co.uk sat in on our tests and agreed that many of the smartphone scenarios that can cause such distress can be easily avoided. "A screen protector is an inexpensive and essential safeguard," he said. "Downloading a tracker app is an easy way to find your phone if it goes missing. And if you back up your phone regularly, the most-prized parts – your personal photos, music and contacts – will never get lost."

The final analysis from Mindlab showed that I'm far more sanguine about stressful situations than the average person is, which will be news to both my doctor and my therapist. Apparently I became strangely worked up during the scenario that involved coping with tricky tech jargon; as a tech enthusiast my only explanation is that I immediately imagined myself in a Geek Squad role, having to explain said jargon to someone at the edge of their tether. Mobile-phone loss ranked highly among my most stressful situations, which didn't surprise me; I pat my pocket so often to check it's there that it's almost become a nervous tic. But my most dreaded scenario was assembling flat-pack furniture. Which sounds about right. As we all know, physical exertion plus screwdrivers plus uncertainty equals misery.

Harriet's view

When someone nicked my phone last year, my first reaction was not the collected, rational annoyance of someone who realises they've lost not only a fairly expensive bit of kit but also a bunch of numbers and some photos they would have quite liked to keep.

No, my reaction was more of the wailing and teeth-gnashing kind – of total panic, of feeling as if I had been marooned, Swiss Family Robinson-style, and that I might never be OK ever again. Perhaps that was because it was stolen in Los Angeles, where not having a phone marks you out as someone who really, really doesn't matter.

But having had an electrode cap strapped to my head and my brainwaves monitored during a series of panic-inducing scenarios, I think it's because losing my phone – to my mind – is the ultimate indication of a life disordered, of potential planning chaos. And I can't think of anything more stressful than that.

I suppose that's why the moments in the test which unnerved me the most were losing my wallet, my passport, an unsaved dissertation and, er, breaking my telly. Each of these situations has a sort of self-flagellatory aspect (oh goody, my favourite) because they shouldn't ever happen so long as you are careful.

What mattered less to me, according to the scans, were things I deem beyond my control, such as not being able to do a Sudoku puzzle. Why should I be able to do one? I'm terrible at maths, and came to terms with that years ago. No probs. Ditto my placid response to baffling tech jargon – I've never known what any of it means, so any attempt to harsh my high by confusing me with it is about as efficient as having a philosophical debate with a sleeping donkey.

I could perhaps assuage some of my phone anxiety by taking a similarly laid-back tack. "It's the will of the gods," I'd shrug, feeling smug about my insurance policy when it goes astray, about having invested in a screen protector when I drop it.

But clearly what I truly care about is not the potential for being put out or the hassle involved in losing one's phone, but the feeling of "ohhhhhjeeesussthatissoannoying why didn't I look after it properly?" It's so instilled into me to care for my belongings – and my phone especially – that I even found myself reaching for it at one point during the test.

But that doesn't necessarily mean I'm any better at coping with a phone loss than Rhodri. Because my enormous stress levels at the reminder of the fate of Bambi's mother (I had only just managed to get over that) prove I am a hysterical fool, unable to separate reality from a sketched picture of a bereaved deer.

And actually, that's pretty much how I felt when someone nicked my phone: a bit wobbly on uncertain legs; lonely and with nobody to text. Lost, in short, and utterly bereft. I've got a new one now, though.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    .Net/ C# Developer/ Analyst Programmer - West London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .NET/ C# .Pr...

    Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

    Content Manager - Central London

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

    Java Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc