Students suffer technostress

January 10, 1997

Computers are supposed to be time-saving devices that make life easier and more convenient. But an American psychology professor contends that on about a quarter of university and college students they have the opposite effect .

According to Richard A. Hudiburg this group suffers "technostress'' that can be measured on a "computer hassles scale'' that he has developed.

"The kind of empirical relationships that people have shown between general stress and stress-related outcomes are the same ones I find when I look specifically at human-computer interaction,'' said Dr Hudiburg, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Alabama.

He has compiled a list of 37 factors that confound computer users, including sluggish program and computer speeds, keyboard typing errors, service interruptions and the constant need to update skills. Computer users measure their stressful feelings about each factor on a scale of from zero to three. The maximum possible score is 111 and any tally over 38 indicates severe stress. Dr Hudiburg estimates that 25 per cent of students fall into this category. The result, he said, is irritability, anxiety, headaches, upset stomachs, nightmares, rejection of or resistance to learning about the computer, insomnia and 14 other measurable physical or psychological complaints. "The perceived lack of control itself can cause stress,'' he said. Despite relative mastery of the technology, many university and college students feel stress because they do not know how to manage the supply of information, Dr Hudiburg said. "In the academic environment, where you're using it all the time, the fact that there are so many applications now means you're there at the keyboard more than you ever were before,'' said Ken Campbell, spokesman for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "When I haven't gotten my email by midday, then I'm behind the times. That alone, I think, is stress-inducing. And when the computer crashes, that's frustrating.'' Dr Hudiburg used 1,200 student subjects to help establish his computer hassles scale. He has spent ten years studying technostress. "There is a fear that change is going to take place and somehow we're going to be left behind,'' he said. "So we have less time on our hands because we're trying to do more. One of the things that was promised with computers was that we were going to have a lot more time on our hands and be able to relax and do other things, but the opposite is probably true.''

RICHARD A. HUDIBURG'S COMPUTER HASSLES SCALE.

Gauge which of these items caused you stress within the past two months using a scale of from zero to three, with three being the most stressful. A total score above 38 indicates severe technostress:

1 Computer system is down.

2 Information lost in the computer.

3 Poorly documented software.

4 Computer hardware failure.

5 Computer keyboard lockup.

6 Programming error.

7 Illegal input message.

8 Updated software requirements.

9 Poor user/computer interface.

10 Low program speed.

11 Low computer speed.

12 Poorly written computer documentation.

13 Incompatible software programs.

14 Incomprehensible computer instructions.

15 Outdated computer skills.

16 Increased time demands.

17 Damaging electrical surges.

18 Lost data.

19 Lost program.

20 Crashed program.

21 Crashed system/lockup.

22 Damaged storage media (disk or tape).

23 Need to update skills.

24 Keyboard typing errors.

25 Need to learn new software.

26 Forgot to save work.

Keyboard paralysis.

28 Uninformative computer conversations.

29 Violent language (program bombed; system crashed).

30 Too much computer information.

31 Too little computer information.

32 Software confusion.

33 Lack of help with a computer problem.

34 Lack of computer expertise.

35 Increased computer use expectations.

36 Lack of computer application software.

37 Obsolete computer.

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