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Tabophilia – could this dangerous obsession wreck the Internet?


Tab.o.philia. Noun. 1. Obsessive compulsion to keep multiple tabs, sometimes up to 90 or more, open on a computer web browser. 2. A love of cycling through tab data. AKA Click-happy syndrome.


As of the time of writing this author has around 71 tabs currently open in his web browser. I have no idea why I do this, but according to researchers subconsciously it may be something to do with a fear of losing track of information. Neural psychologists who have been studying the syndrome know that for many tabophiliacs, there is a compulsion to seek out new data and keep it close at hand, just in case it may be needed for some obscure reason in the subsequent few hours.


Some theories suggest that it is born out of an urge to search for something immediately it pops up in the brain, in other words we have a compulsion to brain dump a thought from the mind to an open tab as quickly as possible, so as to trap it for further study. It also seems to be associated with a need to bookmark, which is often a secondary option when the quantity of tabs reaches unsustainable levels. According to Dr Maxwell Gloopmayer from the Institute of Applied Scientifics in Norchester, this is a common situation in people suffering from the syndrome.


“What we have noticed in our studies over the past six years,” he explains, “Is an increasing number of web users who are addicted to the manipulation and storage of tabs with unrelated and connected websites in them. This obsession seems to be linked with a fear of forgetting, it’s as if the individual is convinced that they will never be able to recollect the information they just learned unless they leave a tab open on the site permanently, or until the browser crashes.”


Several peer reviewed papers have been released covering the subject, among them one by Messrs Jones, Philkins and Gent in Interface Science Journal, 2010, which suggested that the origin of much of the present epidemic of tabophilia may have arisen because of the popularity of the early Amazon.com web store, which glorified tabs as a navigation method, and was therefore probably the first example of an authoritative website which legitimized tabs as a form of expression.


“Clearly Amazon was a turning point in the adoption of tabs as a way to navigate large amounts of information,” confirms Peter Philkins from Intelitabics, one of the authors of the paper,”But even so, we were surprised by the number of individuals who seemed to adopt the tab as a kind of zeitgeist icon, and who then began to use it in other aspects of their day to day lives.”


Of course people have been using tabs as a symbol of order amongst chaos since the early days of the filing cabinet, but the latest trend has researchers more than a little baffled. More and more sufferers seem to be moving their need for fast access to material off-line and into their homes. It’s as though there is some collective drive towards managing their data and other belongings in an uncharacteristically structured way.


Professor Gloopmayer’s team recently conducted a wide ranging series of tests where they forced users to close a tab, whilst observing the physiological and mental effects, and they found that even after a period of adjustment – such as closing inconsequential pages like an empty Google search box page – they noticed distinct signs of mental trauma as the process occurred. In many cases the individual under test was actually unable to close the tab until they had safely bookmarked it into several different locations in their database, such was their fear of losing and forgetting the information from the tab itself.

As for the author, I have finally admitted I have a problem, and have been attending TA (Tabs Anonymous) meetings every week for the past three months. We meet in a dusty out of hours local library which has only a single computer in it. It’s perfect for our needs, as we take turns on the machine, practicing how to repeatedly click away from a Wikipedia page until we’re exhausted from the effort. These are small victories, but they mean a lot when you’re fighting something as debilitating as this.

Further information on the syndrome can be found at http://tabophiliansociety.org.

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