If you’re one of those folks that thinks that one wrong keystroke might break the Internet (and not in the Kim Kardashian’s butt way), you might have a nasty case of technophobia.
I have an older friend who, for years, simply refused to carry her mobile phone in her purse. It was always turned off and stashed inside her car’s glove box. Despite my insistence that she treat it as a two-way communications device, and not as a flare gun, it wasn’t until her third model of mobile phone that she finally got comfortable with the idea of it being truly, ahem… mobile. She still answers her smartphone like it’s something miraculous—“Hello-o?”—but hey, at least she answers it. She’s even graduated to texting: I kvell.
My friend is afraid of technology, and she’s not alone in her trepidation. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, three out of ten people said they felt technology will bring more harmful changes than beneficial ones. Three out of ten? That’s an epidemic, people! And a CNBC poll reports that 53% of Americans prefer to ‘wait a long while’ until technology is proven before buying.” My mantra has always been that the only tech worth using is the kind that serves you, not make you queasy, but I know that plenty of people have plenty of bad experiences, which make people run scared. Are you, or is someone you know, afraid of technology? Answer the following questions, and let’s find out.
1) Are you reluctant to try a new app or digital service, even though it could make life easier for you? (ie. An app that lets you deposit a check at home instead of driving to the bank.)
2) Do you tend to stick with a dated way of doing something, even if it hurts your credibility? (ie. Having an outdated AOL email address can hurt your chances on a job hunt).
3) Do you poke hesitantly at buttons or keyboards, eyes closed, imagining doomsday scenarios in which you accidentally delete your entire existence?
4) Are you the last to upgrade to new software at work?
5) Do you jump to a full-blown panic attack if something technical goes wrong, later finding out the answers were readily available on Google? (Or, have you ever been jokingly pointed to this website?)
Technophobia is very common. The human species doesn’t particularly enjoy change, and the fear of technology has long persisted. At one time, people were freaked out over the printing press! Plus, today’s laptops and mobile devices change so rapidly, it’s nearly impossible for people to get comfortable with them.
Then, there’s the Technology Paradox: Tech solves a lot of life’s problems, true, but first you have to spend time mastering a new device or skill to reap the benefits. So life gets slightly more complex before it gets less so, and if the “mastering” stage feels too long or frustrating, you never get to the “life improvement” stage.
There’s also a phenomenon called Persistence of Memory. If someone began using computers in the 1980s, when they were in their infancy, they formed their opinion when technology was really tough to use. You had to read a giant, incomprehensible manual and it took forever to load software, or print out a page. Technology is so much faster and more intuitive these days, but those earlier computer experiences probably scarred more than a few folks.
Lastly, in American culture, there seems to be anxiety in general about anything related to math, science and programming, especially for women. This goes all the way back to elementary school, where even small children agree that things like math and computers are “boy things.” Later when contemplating college and future careers, women shy away from technology because they don’t feel like they fit the image— the nerds, geeks and bro-grammers you see in the media are all (usually) dudes. The problem persists in the industry (Silicon Valley isn’t exactly known for it’s gender equality) and in regular life, where women are likely to wait for their husbands to come home to set up the new TV or laptop.
So, what should you do if you want to overcome your fears, or have a technophobe parent or co-worker you want to help? Some tips:
Reframe. People feel down on themselves for not knowing how to do this stuff immediately, and without instruction. Give yourself props for mastering small things, instead of beating yourself up for what you haven’t figured out yet.
Whether you’re the learner or the teacher, be patient and take frequent breaks. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your tech-proficiency.
Go big and get comfortable. Reducing frustration is often as simple as increasing the size of the text for the browser and documents. Ensure that the mouse is ergonomic, too. Happy hands and eyes are more likely to hang in for more learning.
Focus on meaningful benefits. Identify some things that will make your life easier, then focus on learning how to do those things, rather than worrying about trying to “learn it all,” which can feel overwhelming. Instead of focusing on the features (I can do this, this and this!) focus on the benefits instead (now that I know how to use this, I’m so much happier!)
Practice one small task over and over. Learn to do one small thing. Then do it every day for a week. Learning it once won’t cement the skill— you’ll need to repeat often.
Reach out to family and friends. A patient high-schooler can teach skills like how to use Instagram or Facebook. If you’re related to them and dangle a bit of cash, (or use of your car?), you’re golden.
Take a class. You can get free, one-on-one lessons on how to use an iPad at the Apple Store, for example, or have a session on digital photography at a camera store. Group classes can be found at community colleges or lots of places online, like SkillShare, Lynda, Kahn Academy and YouTube.
Learn in your own way. Older learners may like the websites of OATS, a community organization that helps seniors harness the power of technology, and Senior Surf, which offers free instructional videos. Find a learning environment that works for you, and stick with it.
Which reminds me: the best way to become a recovered technophobe is to have fun and explore. You really can’t “break” a computer or new phone by experimenting, so relax and see what cool things it—and you—can do.
Thoughts on overcoming tech fears? Let me know in the comments.