John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article dated Oct 99 (v1.2)

Cyberspace Humor

Truth comes out in jest. In other words, jokes can be silly and funny at the same time as revealing some serious truths. This cartoon from the Atlanta Constitution is a good example (click on the picture for a full size view). It pokes fun at the issue of internet addiction - which looms large as one of the most pervasive concerns about the internet in this technology-driven culture of ours. The cartoon singles out a seriously addicted Phil while making us laugh about the situation. In reality, some people do become pathologically preoccupied with cyberspace, but also our culture - especially our media - is almost laughably addicted to scandals in general and to the topic of "addiction" in particular. Seeing the mouse up his nose, we're tempted to think that cyberspace is a mind-altering drug, a biochemical disorder, a transcendental entity to merge with, maybe even a phallic (and in Phil's case, homosexual) symbol. More icons of our contemporary cultural psyche! And is it a coincidence that it's a male who gets so narcissistically wrapped up in his machine while the women, bonding together, assess the situation?

While browsing the web, my daughter Asia found this little bit of auditory humor that amplifies this anxiety about internet addiction [.wav file 96k]. We get so hypnotized by cyberspace that we need a warning signal to help us snap out of it! Conveniently and ironically, perhaps we can program our computers to do it! There are many other jokes about internet addiction. Because we're a very medical oriented and symptom preoccupied culture, quite a few of them focus on the "signs" that one has gone overboard. For example:

The Top 10 Signs You're Addicted to the Net

10. You wake up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom and stop and check your e-mail on the way back to bed.

9. You get a tattoo that reads "This body best viewed with Netscape Navigator 1.1 or higher."

8. You name your children Eudora, Mozilla and Dotcom.

7. You turn off your modem and get this awful empty feeling, like you just pulled the plug on a loved one.

6. You spend half of the plane trip with your laptop on your lap...and your child in the overhead compartment.

5. You decide to stay in college for an additional year or two, just for the free Internet access.

4. You laugh at people with 2400-baud modems.

3. You start using smileys in your snail mail.

2. The last mate you picked up was a JPEG.

1. Your hard drive crashes. You haven't logged in for two hours. You start to twitch. You pick up the phone and manually dial your ISP's access number. You try to hum to communicate with the modem.

You succeed.

What's amusing about these internet jokes - especially to avid onliners - is how they mix reality and fantasy. Hardcore e-mail users do seize the first opportunity they can to check their in-box. And 2400 baud modems indeed seem like silly toys to the experienced user. The fantasy turns to the absurd when cyberspace begins to take over your in-person life. Like an invasion of the body snatchers, it becomes your children and your mate. It becomes the loved one, the source of oceanic oneness and bliss. This quest to psychically meld into union with one's computer fueled the April Fool's prank about the telepathically controlled e-mail headset called "Orrechio" (see my article about cyberspace as psychological space). The fantasy relationship with our computer may express our grandiose wish to control everything in our lives - a wish revealed in these file options on a weary office worker's monitor. The bottom line is that the fantasy rests on both a wish AND a fear. We want omnipotent control with the computer. We want omnipotent control over the computer. But what goes around comes around. It may take control over us.

Here's another sound clip that Asia found during her journeys. I had to laugh out loud when she played it for me. Entitled "Trapped on the Internet" (wav file 464k), it's sung to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song. For a change, internet addiction is not (at least overtly) the gist of these silly lyrics. Instead, it portrays another pervasive cultural anxiety regarding the internet - the paranoia about malicious people coming after you, in this case, the mysterious, all-knowing, almost demonic "cybergeeks" who reign over the internet. They are the incarnation of the Boogey Man who hide in the corners of cyberspace rather than under our beds. Unable to escape them, the protagonist in the song resorts to pulling the plug on his computer, but to no avail. Caught by some supernatural intervention, he's STILL trapped on the internet! It's not just the cybergeeks we fear, but also the unearthly, almost mystical powers of this inescapable thing called "cyberspace." It threatens to overcome reality and swallow us up! Perhaps not coincidentally, this was a theme I tinkered with in my novel Madman when the protagonist Thomas Holden - a weary and stressed psychology intern - seeks help from a computerized psychotherapist program called "Siggie" (here's the excerpt which appears in my article about computerized psychotherapy).

Computers that act like people, people that act like computers. As our machines become more and more sophisticated - almost as sophisticated as their creators - we start to wonder whether there's much of a difference between the two. Does the human mind work like a computer? Can computers become almost human? Interesting scientific and philosophical questions! These issues could lead to some rather maladaptive attitudes about human relationships that are parodied in jokes like this:

Seeking technical support for Girlfriend:

I'm currently running the latest version of Girlfriend 2.0 and am having some problems. I've been running the same version of DrinkingBuddies 1.0 all along as my primary application, and all the Girlfriend releases have always conflicted with it. I hear DrinkingBuddies won't crash if you run Girlfriend in background mode with the sound switched off. But I'm embarrassed to say that I can't find the button to turn it off. I just run them separately, and it works OK. I probably should have stayed with Girlfriend 1.0, but I thought I might see better performance with Girlfriend 2.0.

My friend also told me that Girlfriend 2.0 expires within a year if you don't upgrade to Fiancee 1.0. And after that, you have to upgrade to Wife 1.0, which he said is a huge resource hog. On top of that, Wife 1.0 comes bundled with MotherInLaw 1.0 which has an automatic pop-up feature that can't be turned off. I told him to install Mistress 1.0, but he said that if you try to run it without first uninstalling Wife 1.0, that Wife 1.0 will delete MSMoney files before doing the uninstall itself. Then Mistress 1.0 won't install anyway due to insufficient resources.

Anybody out there able to offer technical advice.......?

Wanting to control women like they control their cars and computers. Wanting to understand women like they understand their cars and computers. But failing on both scores. Not exactly an admirable portrayal of the male psyche! There is a strong tendency to perceive computers as if they are people, a phenomenon known as "transference." Norman Holland even suggested that we can regress to thinking that our computers are sexual beings, which seems to be the confusion that plagues the desperate GirlFriend user. However, whether the computer acts more like a man or a woman is an issue open to debate. In one joke about a "scientific poll" of attitudes concerning computers, the findings were divided:
Women stated that computer should be referred to in the masculine gender because:

1. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on;
2. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless;
3. They are supposed to help you solve problems but half the time they are the problem;
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that, if you had waited a little longer you could have had a better model.

Men conclude that computers should be referred to in the feminine gender because:

1. No one but the Creator understands their internal logic;
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
3. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval;
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.
The ancient and never-ending battle of the sexes shines through once again! Cyberspace jokes - like any brand of humor - serve as a vehicle for expressing universal human issues. Other cyberspace bits, however, specialize in making fun of experiences that are unique to cyberspace - jokes that only experienced onliners will appreciate. Anyone who has participated in an e-mail list discussion of some important change in the group will nod and chuckle when reading How many mail list subscribers does it take to change a light bulb?". Or how about the freedom the internet offers in allowing everyone the opportunity to speak their mind? Is it too much freedom? Perhaps we don't want every narcissistic, opinionated, loud-mouthed pundit and his brother bending our ears, as this bit of humor suggests:
The NewsGroup Personality

(Based on the Major General's song from
Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance")

I am the very model of a Newsgroup personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.
Addresses I have plenty of, both genuine and ghosted too,
On all the countless newsgroups that my drivel is cross-posted to.
Your bandwidth I will fritter with my whining and my sniveling,
And you're the one who pays the bill, downloading all my driveling.
My enemies are numerous, and no-one would be blaming you
For cracking my head open after I've been rudely flaming you.

I hate to lose an argument (by now I should be used to it).
I wouldn't know a valid point if I was introduced to it.
My learning is extensive but consists of mindless trivia,
Designed to fan my ego, which is larger than Bolivia.
The comments that I vomit forth, disguised as jest and drollery,
Are really just an exercise in unremitting trollery.
I say I'm frank and forthright, but that's merely lies and vanity,
The gibberings of one who's at the limits of his sanity.

If only I could get a life, as many people tell me to;
If only Mom could find a circus freak-show she could sell me to;
If I go off to Zanzibar to paint the local scenery;
If I lose all my fingers in a mishap with machinery;
If I survive to twenty, which is somewhat problematical;
If what I post was more mature, or slightly more grammatical;
If I could learn to spell a bit, and maybe even punctuate;
Would I still be the loathsome and objectionable punk you hate?

But while I have this tiresome urge to prance around and show my face,
It simply isn't safe for normal people here in cyberspace.
To stick me in Old Sparky and turn on the electricity
Would be a fitting punishment for my egocentricity.
I always have the last word; so, with uttermost finality,
That's all from me, the model of a Newsgroup personality.

In another problematic scenario quite familiar to the jaded cybercitizen, we are looking for an answer to an important question. We've been told the internet is a massive information superhighway, that people online are knowledgeable and helpful, so our expectations are high. Little did we know that ye may seek but NOT find. Sometimes the responses to our query may be everything except what we want:
I Shot A Query Into The Net

I shot a query into the Net.
I haven't got an answer yet,
But seven people gave me hell
And said I ought to learn to spell;

A posted message called me rotten
For ignoring mail I'd never gotten;
An angry message asked me, Please
Don't send such drivel overseas;

A lawyer sent me private mail
And swore he'd slap me in jail --
I'd mentioned Un*x in my gem
And failed to add the T and M;

One netter thought it was a hoax:
"Hereafter, post to net dot jokes!";
Another called my grammar vile
And criticized my writing style.

Each day I scan each Subject line
In hopes the topic will be mine;
I shot a query into the Net.
I haven't got an answer yet ...

The old timers understand all these in's and out's of living online. But for the newbies, cyberspace is a brand new world filled with goodies... and fears. Sometimes those fears are legitimate. Sometimes naive. They can't tell the difference between the two. They haven't yet developed an eye for discerning what's accurate information on the net and what's gobbly-gook. Eventually, the internet will force us all to develop that power to accurately evaluate data. In the meanwhile, the newbies' ignorance and trepidation about this strange new world may lead them astray - a dilemma the oldtimer may portray as satire:
Gullibility Virus Spreading over the Internet!

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to cookie recipes, email viruses, taxes on modems, and get-rich-quick schemes. Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following:

- The willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking.
- The urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others.
- A lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a story is true.

Anyone with symptoms like these is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favorite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community.

Forward this message to all your friends right away! Don't think about it! This story is so timely, there is no date on it! This story is so important, we're using lots of exclamation points! Lots!! For every message you forward to some unsuspecting person, the Home for the Hopelessly Gullible will donate ten cents to itself.

I've presented only a few types of cyberspace humor in this article, so the sample is limited. Nevertheless, it's interesting how they all reveal our underlying fears and frustrations. That's the purpose of most humor - to help us ventilate our psychological tensions. Maybe we could boost its soothing effect by combining it with, say, poetry. Can you imagine anything more psychically therapeutic than Haiku that pinpoints and exorcises all our anxieties about this new Being we call "computer":

A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.
The Web site you seek
cannot be located but
endless others exist
- - - - - --- --- --------------------------------------
Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.
-------------------------------- - -
ABORTED effort:
Close all that you have.
You ask way too much.
First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.
-- ------------------------------
Stay the patient course
Of little worth is your ire
The network is down
----------------------------------- -- -
A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone.
----- -------------------------------
You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.
Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.
------------------------------------------- - -

The origin of these and other computer haiku can be found at Haiku Error Messages

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