General Question

Harp's avatar

Why doesn't technology work properly in dreams?

Asked by Harp (19038 points ) November 16th, 2009

It’s well known that mechanical and electronic stuff typically doesn’t function as it’s supposed to in dreams. Lucid dreamers use this fact to test whether or not they’re dreaming: if you try to flip a light switch in a dream, chances are it won’t have the expected result. Clocks don’t work properly. Last night in my dream I tried for many minutes to get to the “contacts” menu on my cell phone, and never could. Yet these are all things that we’re very familiar with.

The brain can spin incredibly rich, detailed simulations of reality, so why can’t it make the light switch work? Is technology such a new feature of human life that we don’t yet have the neural tools to dream it?

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16 Answers

gemiwing's avatar

I tend to think that it’s our brain preparing us for the possibility that these things won’t work in real life. A way to file out all the possibilities.

filmfann's avatar

It’s easier to notice when things go wrong than go right. How many light switches did you use today?

SarasWhimsy's avatar

I think that’s the fun part of lucid dreaming. Sometimes when I “turn on” light switches balloons come out instead of light.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

Hmm I don’t know I have had some pretty awesome chase scenes in my dreams involving my car running from the cops, I was accompanied by Toad from Mario Brothers.
I guess I have had dreams where technology doesn’t work but then I have had dreams where I know im talking on my cell phone or checking it for the time or on my computer or something. I don’t know about lucid dreaming exactly though

YARNLADY's avatar

When I have dreams like that, I assume it is my power of dealing with frustration that is getting exercised.

acidlogik's avatar

GQ. I don’t have a clue but I’ll be following the discussion.

robmandu's avatar

I always just figured such failures were intrinsic to the plot.

Mainly because the failure of things to work “right” in dreams is, for me, not limited just to technological items, but to just about anything.

Flying dream ==> gravity is broke.

Can’t run away dream ==> muscles don’t work

Silent scream dream ==> voice is kaput

Hot 3-on-1 action dream ==> social order has collapsed

Y’dig?

tyrantxseries's avatar

note: I don’t deal with technology much in my dreams
What would be fun about dreaming if everything worked like it was supposed to?

acidlogik's avatar

You may find this of interest.

In dreams, inanimate objects can easily take on personalities and other forms of animation. Technology is stupid in the sense that it is an extension of our will and does what we want it to, or ends up in a junk yard. As the direct result of humankind’s poor planning, some cities are drowning in their own waste.

In dreamland, the pushy use of will and domination is less likely to work the same way as in the material world. Thus inventions and technologies like our toaster, our cars and our phones are less likely to be extensions of our will and more likely to be representations of our relationship to will and willpower.

If I had a dream where mechanical things weren’t working, I would see this as an opportunity to come into relationship with my own will (and by extension, technologies) in a different way.

For example, I might consider the possibility that I am pushing way too hard and using technology to extend my brute will. I might look for other alternatives for dealing with my world, shifting my focus to cooperation and away from domination.

The author is basically taking your point about how recent technology is to our culture and expanding on it.

tinyfaery's avatar

GQ This happens to me all the time. I cannot drive cars or dial phones.

Blondesjon's avatar

I’m sure once we uncover why we dream in the first place everything else will fall into place.

or lightly onto the flying purple unicorn that is driving the cab i’m in.

CMaz's avatar

Why should it?
Boundaries are caused when matter collides. In a dream, when there is a collision and it does not occur it progresses forward without consequence.

No consequence, now you can fly.

tb1570's avatar

If you haven’t seen it already, you should watch Waking Life.

Response moderated (Spam)
Kimber's avatar

Hi, I found this when googling the same question. In my dreams phones never work and I get very frustrated at this. I also have the same dream over and over of being in a airplane and it crashing. I always survive but each time it has been power failure. Sometime I wake up and am so worked up from being frustrated with my dreams. The cell phone issues is almost nightly. I joined here just to post this and to follow. Thanks for bringing this up!

ipodtouch0218's avatar

I think of it this way, if you flick a light switch in a dream at say… anywhere, you are not actually at a light switch, you are still in you bed, sleeping. Same thing with phones. You imagine that you are holding the phone, but it is actually on the charger, so it does not work due to the brain does not remember in dreams what we take for granite in our normal lives in the material world.

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