Technology hypochondriacs


One phenomenon I've noticed quite a bit is something I'm going to call "technology hypochondria", the belief that you are suffering from whatever problem you just read about. It reminds me of this joke:

A man goes to his doctor. "Doctor," he says, "I'm pretty sure I've got this disease here. All the symptoms match. I'm suffering from fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, and memory loss."

"Mr. Jenkins," the doctor responds, "I'm fairly certain you aren't suffering from menopause."

One of my relatives who is a medical doctor in a public hospital explained to me that in his experience, you should never trust the diagnosis of a med student. "When we bring them along on rounds and show them a patient and ask them what they think the problem might be, they always answer with the disease they just studied last week."

When I describe one way a program can become unresponsive, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's why your program is unresponsive. A program can become unresponsive for any of a million reasons, most of which have the same basic symptoms: "When I click on the program, nothing happens." That's really not enough information from which to make a diagnosis. To make a diagnosis, you need to whack a debugger under the program and see why the UI thread isn't processing messages. (Mark Russinovich did exactly that to investigate a process startup delay he was experiencing, and the cause in his case was something I hadn't seen before.)

If you post a comment to one of my articles asking, "Could this be why my program also has a similar problem?", don't expect much of an answer from me. It's like writing a letter to a newspaper's medical advice column saying, "I'm suffering from fatigue and loss of appetite. Do I have AIDS?"

Comments (21)
  1. Bob says:

    Raymond, Raymond, Raymond, I can see all the spam link blogs today: Microsoft’s Raymond Chen asks "Do I have AIDS?"

  2. andy says:

    Ah, I believe something similar is happening with my own blog. Can you please tell me how to fix this?

    :P

  3. David Candy says:

    Studying psychology has the same effect. One is certain one has the latest abnormality. [Stop spying on me through the window …]

  4. bramster says:

    Raymond, hopefully we’ll see this item in your next book "The New Old New Thing"

    It must be tough mixing cycling with being the "wise old man on the mountain"

    Great Book!

  5. Andy C says:

    I’m worried I may be suffering from technology hypochondria. Does anyone have a cure?

    ;)

  6. Tim says:

    Interestingly, from Mark’s blog entry:

    "I scoured MSDN documentation and the Web and found essentially no information on the underlying cause for that error code."

    And the next few sentences feature the words "implies", "didn’t make sense", "hunch", etc.

    I hope he doesn’t meet Raymond in a dark alley one night :)

  7. Mike Dunn says:

    The non-techy users I talk with usually think everything bad is caused by a virus, because that’s the only term they know. I had one person who was getting duplicate emails in her inbox, and it was clearly the POP server’s fault, so she just had to delete the dupes until the server got straightened out. But she kept asking me "do I have a virus?!!?"

  8. Dr Jekyll says:

    Mr Jenkins is suffering from depression.

  9. Puckdropper says:

    Andy C said:

    I’m worried I may be suffering from technology hypochondria. Does anyone have a cure?

    Windows 98 had technology hypochondria.  If you shut it down wrong or if Windows started to boot and didn’t get a chance to finish, it would be convinced something was wrong with it and run scandisk.  The cure, naturally, is to use a non-hypochondriac version of windows like 2000. :-)

  10. Andrew says:

    Reading Mark’s blog reminds me of the quote from Capablanca, the famous chess Grandmaster, who said "I see only one move ahead but it is always the correct one". This sounds arrogant until you start to realize the impact that practical experience in the problem domain has on your thought processes. Scientific American published a fascinating article in their Aug 2006 on this whole subject, titled The Expert Mind.

  11. My wife suffers from this too – she reads about an ailment on the net and then assumes she has it.

    The term I use for it is "cyberchondria".

  12. ::Wendy:: says:

    when will my computer go through the menopause,  before or after it’s mother board dies?

  13. Drak says:

    A friend of mine always thought bugs in games occurred because something had gone wrong during the copying of files in the installation process. Couldn’t get him to understand that if a file was copied wrongly more stuff would go wrong (this btw was in the old DOS days where lots of games were just 1 file).

    That being said, if my computer hardware acts up, and I find someone having the same problem on the internet and they have a solution, I do tend to think my problem is the same as theirs, which is not always true..

  14. Mike Dimmick says:

    Drak: actually I once had a problem with Virtual PC where, after installation, it would always crash my PC on booting. I traced this to one of the Virtual PC drivers (the virtual network driver) having the wrong link checksum.

    Windows 2000 would blue-screen if the checksum was wrong. Windows XP would load properly but the network wouldn’t work if the driver was enabled.

    Checking the CD we’d burned from the VPC ISO against a copy extracted from the ISO using IsoBuster showed that there was an error in that file on the burned copy (installing from the extract worked fine). We chucked the CD away and used the extract in future.

  15. Ricardo Afonso says:

    Reading Mark’s blog reminds me of the quote from

    Capablanca, the famous chess Grandmaster, who

    said "I see only one move ahead but it is always

    the correct one". This sounds arrogant until you

    start to realize the impact that practical

    experience in the problem domain has on your

    thought processes. Scientific American published

    a fascinating article in their Aug 2006 on this

    whole subject, titled The Expert Mind.

    Zen and the Art on Motorcycle Repairs, by Pirsig, also gets into this, in a fascinating way.

  16. Vijay says:

    I’m sure my computer is running Vista what with everyone talking about it :)

  17. dave says:

    The good thing about some technology hypochondriacs is that you can prescribe technology placebos.

    Just have ’em add a registry entry that used to do something in DOS-based Windows systems, and they’ll swear their XP system "runs smoother".

  18. Cooney says:

    "I’m running Windows. Windows 97".

  19. Neil says:

    Anyone know why Mark Russinovich’s blog explicitly serves up all its images over https? (unfortunately my browser doesn’t recognise the cert chain…)

  20. Yuvi says:

    My father too has this, but whenever he reads of a new ailment or disease, he assumes that *I* am suffering from it:D

    In Other news, I think you and your readers might be interested in my statistical analysis of your blog: http://blog.yuvisense.net/2007/02/15/statbot-visits-the-old-new-thing/

    But then again, 77% of your blog posts are posted at 7:00, so maybe you aren’t real….

  21. Zer0mass says:

    Having worked in a computer repair shop I found it staggering the number of people that thought that their motherboard failing was the result of a virus.  Or my favorite, they were being hacked through the power cord while the computer was physically turn off.  Those were good times.

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