«I wasn't taken seriously regarding technical issues»

«I wasn't taken seriously regarding technical issues»

David Lee
Zurich, on 16.04.2021
People with too many tabs open are digital slobs who have lost control of their lives. At least, that's what many think. I sat down with just such an individual, and instead encountered a self-reliant and reflective person.

It's a common, yet irritating phenomenon: people who have dozens, if not hundreds, of tabs open in their web browser. The tabs become so small that not even the favicons are visible, let alone the description. I've been wondering for a long time: why would anyone do this? What is going on inside the minds of these people?

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Thankfully, one affected person has agreed to talk openly about it. Carolin Teufelberger is known to Galaxus users as an editor and DIY expert. What only very few people know: she suffers from TMTS (too many tabs syndrome).

Caro, how does TMTS manifest itself in your everyday life?
Carolin Teufelberger: Outsiders become aware of it mainly through my wild clicking. My browser bar is colourfully decorated with an array favicons. Pages that I visit over and over again, visited two months ago, or want to visit someday but will actually never click on. But I don't feel complete without them.

Do you perceive this as a problem yourself?
No. What gets me is when I'm left with a blank Google Chrome after a forced restart.

But wouldn't it be good to know what tabs you have open? Otherwise you'll open the same tab four times…
That does happen once in a while, but I'm used to it. Firstly, I'm restraining myself enough today that every single tab is still visible. Secondly, I know the favicons of my most visited pages and can remember their spot in the bar. For example, I have multiple Google Docs open as I'm working on multiple texts. I know exactly that the report is located between the drive and the NZZ favicon. That's then followed by the first review to the right and a text to be proofread.

So, turns out TMTS isn't a real problem for you at all. Are those affected discriminated and pathologised?
I think so. Of course, some criticism is understandable, such as when someone with TMTS comes to a meeting unprepared and has to search through all their tabs first. But such cases are few and far between. Most of those who suffer live out the syndrome for themselves and try not to burden other people with it. However, many outsiders just don't get it and simply go crazy when they catch a glimpse of my tabs in a video call.

Have you been bullied because of it?
Yes, before the plague my colleague Ramon S* (name withheld) often made fun of me and blamed every software problem on my TMTS. I wasn't taken seriously regarding technical issues.

Have you thought about starting a support group with other sufferers?
Every now and then, but so far I've been too lazy to get serious about networking. But I'm sure I still have a tab on the subject open somewhere.

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What caused this excessive tab usage in the first place?
When I read something online, certain aspects interest me more closely. In some cases, I'm also reminded of a related topic or ask myself questions. I then open a link or pre-Google for later in a new tab. Otherwise I'll forget about it after I finish reading, but I also don't want to leave the main page only to completely lose the thread. Even when I'm on news portals, I open all the articles I'm interested in a new tab while scrolling. That way, I collect information quickly. There are a lot of thoughts simultaneously running around in my head. I function very associatively, which is also reflected in my browser behaviour.

I often feel the same way, but it doesn't add up to 150 tabs.
Why not? Are you suppressing your impulses?

I'm probably too impatient to even read enough text to get to 150 links … but I've never even questioned that, probably because my behaviour is considered normal.
You probably just submit to society's standards without asking yourself who you actually are inside. It's a very human thing.

But I'm also bothered by any possible loss of control. I like to retain an overview. Many of those afflicted claim that they have complete control over their open tabs. I don't believe a word they say.
I already showed you a few of my tricks earlier. But of course, you always have to expect a loss of control with TMTS. I enjoy the risk, especially since my everyday life is characterised by routine and control due to the pandemic.

Apart from all the tabs, do you lead a normal life without restrictions?
Naturally, I always have to be careful who I tell about my tabs. At a job interview, TMTS can quickly become fatal. Other than that, I live a normal life with full closets and shelves, which no one has ever wondered about. If stuffing boxes full of clothes is apparently fine, why is the line drawn at browsers? I don’t get it.

So you aren't dependent on special help such as additional RAM?
Not as of yet. If Google is taking its time, I just open another tab and see if it's faster in the new one. But when I do this, the previous page is mostly loaded in the old tab anyway.

Thank you so much for your time and for finding the courage to speak so openly about this difficult subject!
Thank you, and I hope this interview empowers other sufferers to stop pretending and be themselves.

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David Lee
David Lee
Senior Editor, Zurich
My interest in IT and writing landed me in tech journalism early on (2000). I want to know how we can use technology without being used. Outside of the office, I’m a keen musician who makes up for lacking talent with excessive enthusiasm.

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