Over the past few weeks, as a result of several different interactions I have had, I have become aware of a very real fear that is out there. This fear is causing lots of people a lot of unwanted, unnecessary stress. It is the fear of technology, which I will call, from here on out, technophobia. Allow me to explain exactly what I’m talking about, and then to give my two cents on the best way to combat this fear.
The problem arises when you have a person who has a desire to use a particular technology–perhaps they heard about it from someone, read about it somewhere, or saw a commercial about it on TV–but they have no idea how to use it. We’ve all been there. Holding a new cell phone in our hands, or perhaps turning on a new tablet. Or maybe it’s something as simple as trying a new feature or app on our cell phones. A lot of times this moment of excited anticipation is followed, very quickly, I might add, by a whole lot of confusion, which spirals almost immediately into frustration, and then full on stress and anxiety. If we were to record people during this process, the transcript would probably read something like this:
“Oh wow, sweet! Look at the quality of the picture on this thing! Okay I’m just waiting for it to load…wait what? Do I want to what? I guess I’ll say yes. Wait. Why is it…wait a second…why…well now it’s saying that I have to restart. Okay I’ll restart. [a couple minutes later] Now wait, where was that? I think it was under….no that’s not it…what? Ya know what, I don’t get this thing. Forget it.”
Just typing that out and putting myself in that scenario mentally was stressful for me. But here’s the thing. I think that moment presents us with a turning point. We can either blame the technology, or blame ourselves. Oftentimes we get so frustrated and upset that we decide we don’t really like using said technology that much anyway, and start wondering if maybe we’re better off without it. And really what we are doing there is blaming the technology for the problem. Notice how the person in the above transcript seems to think that the technology is out to get them, that it has a mind of its own and is not cooperating with them. That is a key misunderstanding that is so easy to fall into. But let me just say right now–TECHNOLOGY IS MEANT TO HELP YOU, AND IT IS NOT OUT TO GET YOU. If it feels like it’s “being difficult,” we might need to look inward and figure out what we are doing that could be causing the problem.
People approach the second option, blaming themselves for the problem, in a variety of ways. Lots of people get out their manuals and start trying to find the page that coincides with what they were just trying to do (“maybe there’s a step that I missed”). Others might ask a friend to try it out (“I must just not be capable of understanding it”). But there is a third way, which I have found is usually the best way to get over the technophobia problem: try again, but this time, don’t be afraid to mess up. Remind yourself that this thing is supposed to be easy to use (that’s probably why you bought it in the first place!), so maybe you just need to play with it a little bit until you understand it.
A major aspect of technophobia is this underlying fear that if one were to press the wrong button, the whole thing would break and would never be able to be fixed. This probably comes from some late-nineties-huge-computer-all-I-did-was-press-this-button-and-now-my-computer-is-broken kind of a flashback fear for many people. But the truth of the matter is, most things are not that fragile anymore. And most things are very user-friendly these days as well. They try to make it obvious and easy for the average person to use. All they require is a little bit of exploration (in which you can’t be afraid to try new things and take “risks”), and then you’ll have figured them out. The opposite of this, when someone just freezes and stares at the screen, or keeps trying the same thing over and over again, never does anyone any good. All it does is feed the technophobia.
Technophobia is very common, and we can all fall into it at times, no matter what our age or stage of life. But at the end of the day it holds a lot of people back from using technology to its fullest capacity. The key is to be patient and face our fears with confidence that we will figure this thing out. How hard can it be, anyway? The whole point of technology is to make life easier, and most things that any of us would know about or buy in the first place are going to be accessible to ordinary people. We need to start believing that we really are smarter than the technology, that it’s not out to get us, and that maybe it’s not so scary after all.