By Jen Horsey
Source: Canadian Press
Some people seem to carry a computer curse, frustrated by a plague of viruses, hard-drive failures, power surges and software conflicts that appear and disappear without rational explanation.
They blame their machines and suffer the scorn of others who accuse them of doing something wrong. But researchers at Princeton University may have an explanation: these computer users, it seems, could be sending out bad vibes.
"There are some people who seem to have a natural rapport with computers and other complex machines, and there are other people who seem to manage to break everything even without touching it," said York Dobyns, analytical co-ordinator at Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR).
The laboratory has for 26 years studied a phenomenon that just might have something to do with it.
Through countless experiments, the researchers have tested whether people, through their consciousness alone, can somehow affect the output of various devices.
The devices - including mechanical and electronic gadgets - produce random outputs when there are no humans around.
The experiments appear to demonstrate a small, but statistically significant, anomaly: study subjects seem to be able to change the output of the machines merely by thinking about them.
"Viewed collectively across all of the experiments, the odds that this is all just a statistical fluctuation are ridiculously small," said Dobyns. "One in a trillion would be the right general ballpark."
The researchers believe the effect might not just be limited to these simple machines. In fact, part of the initial funding that launched the program - founded in 1979 by Robert Jahn, then dean of engineering and applied science at the school - came from a major American aerospace manufacturer trying to protect sensitive equipment from this phenomenon, should it exist at all.
Computer support experts certainly recognize a small, but perhaps statistically significant, number of their clients who could very well be sending out some strong vibes.
"Occasionally you'll come across a person who is just absolutely jinxed," said Lyle Melnychuk, a computer whiz who runs Geeks 2 Go in Kamloops, B.C., and helps people fix their technical problems.
"It's not that they're bad people, it's just that they and technology ... they should just go back to pen and paper."
But he and other experts say the reason for persistent computer problems is likely something simpler than mind control.
"I think it's quite possible that individual people could have statistically noticeable effect on computers, but I don't think it's a vibe," said John DiMarco, information technology director for the University of Toronto's computer science department.
"The presence of strange anomalies in the hardware can often be attributed to the environment," he said.
People whose machines always seem to be working against them may be the same people who are forever zapping their computers with electric shocks because they live in a dry house and have long hair, fuzzy carpets and a penchant for wool sweaters, he said.
DiMarco also said the source of mystery problems can often be traced back to a reluctance to admit misuse - like indiscriminate downloading that can bring on spyware and viruses.
"They're not always readily admitting what they've done, especially if they have the sense they shouldn't have done it. It's an issue of admission of guilt."
Family computers are particularly vulnerable because they have multiple users - including younger ones who might not be particularly concerned about the consequences of their surfing, said Melnychuk.
A failure to perform regular maintenance further aggravates the problem.
"It's a working piece of machinery. It has to be worked on - it's not a toaster," he said.
But Dobyns and other PEAR researchers are accustomed to skepticism and they continue to work on an answer for those who may believe they are better off sticking to pen and paper.
"We are hoping to get to the level of practical application in the near future," said Dobyns.
He refused to offer specifics on what the lab might make - be it a bad-vibe shield or a machine intended for mind control.
"On that topic, I think I would prefer to remain silent for the time being."