Are you afraid of computers? Do you know someone who is? If you’ve grown up with personal computers or been around them for any length of time, you probably take them for granted. After all, PCs have become nearly as commonplace as dishwashers.
More than half of U.S. homes now have at least one PC, and 90 percent of
school-age children have regular access to PCs, two-thirds from their homes,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest statistics.
But there’s still a lot of fear and loathing about these machines.
As many as 85 percent of us have at least some level of discomfort around
technology, including PCs, says Larry Rosen, co-author of the book TechnoStress:
Coping with Technology @Work @Home @Play who has a Web site at www.technostress.com.
In work settings, two-thirds of people are “hesitant” about technology,
says Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez
Hills, CA. Fully 80 percent of people, according to Rosen’s studies,
feel that workplace technology has brought additional stresses to their
Although the design of PC hardware and software has improved over the years,
clearly there’s still room for more intelligent simplicity here. In
the meantime, what do you do if you or somebody you know quakes around a
PC at one level or another?
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Rosen, who prefers the broader term “technostress” over the
more common terms “technophobia” or “computerphobia,”
says the first step is to is to understand that “essentially everybody
is feeling stressed out by technology,” as borne out by his research.
“You are not alone in your fears,” he says.
Second, the fact is, “technology is frustrating,” he says. Whether
you’re dealing with less complex technologies such as cellular phones,
pagers or voice mail or more complex technologies such as computers, e-mail
or the Internet, it’s inevitable for it not always to work the way
Don’t make the complex more complex than it already is, says Rosen.
“Just because technology can do many things at the same time, this
doesn’t mean you have to.”
Rosen has a name for this too: “multitasking madness.” By doing
too many tasks at once, you don’t pay enough attention to any one
task. Much here has to do with how time has become compressed in our increasingly
“Time is indelibly stamped on our routines,” says Rosen. “This
gives us an impossible yardstick to measure ourselves against. We find
ourselves getting impatient for a fax to go through, which might take
30 seconds, or for a computer to boot, which may take one minute.”
The irony here is that personal computers, while enabling us to get things
done faster, also increases the expectation that things will get done
faster, which can add pressure to an already pressure-filled situation
and drive your anxiety level through the roof.
To overcome any anxiety, seek out help wherever you can, says Rosen, including
your family. It may be a cliché in the information age that kids
are computer mavens, but it’s often true. This shifts power away
from parents and toward children.
As a parent, turn this upended power structure in your family to your
advantage. “Make it a positive, a way for you to be proud of your
children’s knowledge and for them to teach you what they know,”
says Rosen. “If they know how to search the Net, for instance, let
them show you. Do it as a family.”
In a work setting, help is crucial as well. You shouldn’t be on your
own here, though too often people are. A sixth of the workers Rosen surveyed
received no computer training at all, while only one-third said they received
excellent or very good training.
Not surprisingly, people who receive good computer training have less
computer stress. Rosen’s work indicates that those business people
who had “excellent to good” training had more positive reactions
to technology. Those who received “fair to terrible” training
had more negative reactions.
If you feel your training has been inadequate, find someone in your organization
who knows the technology and who can speak about it in a down-to-earth
fashion, recommends Rosen. Ask the person to show you one or two things
the technology does. Then spend some time doing that. Don’t worry
about making mistakes.
“If you get stuck, call your friend,” says Rosen. “When
you want to learn more, call your friend.”
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”
Knowledge is a great antidote to fear. Once you know, you’re no longer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight
Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org