Rage against the machine

I have a theory. Well, “theory” may be to grandiose. Call it a hypothesis. It suggests a reason for why incidents of road rage have been rising in America over the last few decades. There are a few logical explanations for this, such as the simple fact of more cars on the road, hormones, economic conditions, self-defeating child-rearing techniques. No doubt people have blamed video games, liberals, conservatives and who knows what all else. One observation I like came from a comedian (I don’t remember who) who said that he didn’t remember much road rage before people started drinking sixty ounces of Starbucks and Big Gulps of caffeinated sugar-water. That became my working hypothesis until recently, when another culprit suggested itself. My new hypothesis is this:

Road rage is increasing because Americans are being slowly driven insane by the nine-minute snooze bar interval.

You can find a lot on the web about why this interval is nine-minutes. Most of it is wrong, and there seems to be no definitive answer. In 1999, Cecil Adams waded through it, reaching the conclusion that it was originally a decision driven more by the gearing of the first mechanical clock that had the snooze feature than any rational choice. When other clocks copied the feature, they kept the interval without thinking much about why. It was the “convention”. (This is the same reason that we continue to be plagued with the idiocy that is the fax machine.)

There is far less to be found on the net about what the ideal snooze interval really should be. It doesn’t appear that anyone has studied this. There don’t seem to be many studies on the impact of using the snooze bar in general, only a general notion that “short bouts of sleep are far from ideal”. Proof that snooze is driving the country insane currently relies on anecdotal evidence:

The modern alarm clock, or more to the point, its confounded snooze button, has dramatically altered my personality and stolen countless hours of personal productivity. It seems that the point of the snooze button is to prolong the agony of having to untangle from your partner and slowly acclimate to the inevitable nip of the morning air.…the snooze button has left me less than satisfied. Given this, I naturally wanted to find a place to lay blame. Who better than the inventor of the snooze button: Lew Wallace. It turns out that this very same Lew Wallace is the Lew Wallace who wrote Ben Hur. This amused me, since Ben Hur is nothing short of prolonged agony in its own right…

Without formal studies of this important issue, little progress will be made toward saving the nation’s sanity. There is hope, however. Many alarm clocks now come with adjustable snooze intervals. I suspect the psychologically “correct” interval is closer to 25 minutes, but only home experimentation can save us. Feel free to post your results here. (When responding, remember to indicate if you are sane or not.)

One thought to “Rage against the machine”

  1. the snooze button on outlook starts at 15 minutes from the event, and then reminds you every 5 minutes. But that’s just the default setting. It’s adjustable,

    I think the real UI issue is popups on the whole. They change your focus against your will, and that is extremely disruptive, and can make you lose work on your computer, etc. Note that windows is full of such items, and changes your focus against your will all the time. the Mac almost never changes your focus.

    Bad driving is a lot like changing your focus against your will. Like a popup you didn’t expect to have to deal with, someone who cuts you off is basically changing your focus. What’s interesting to me is how people feel free to change your focus at will, whereas once upon a time it would have been considered rude.

    It struck me last time in Vegas that those pushy people handing you flyers were no longer just outside the casinos, the casinos themselves had such people. And if you ignored them with the East COast thing where you keep your eyes focused ahead and refuse to acknowledge them, they got upset, as if you were being rude. But it was they who were demanding you change your focus. And they were felt free to do so without really asking permission.

    IN the future, we’ll need not just spam filters and pop-up blockers, but personal interaction gatekeepers, both for walking around and for driving. I have absolutely no idea how such a thing would work, but it’s clearly becoming necessary.

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