Psychology

Technophobia in the Computer Age



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I embrace all of the new office technologies. What's not to love? Personal computers, cell phones, scanners and other devices have made our lives better and longer. They have revolutionized every industry, allowing them to become more productive. These technological advances allow handicapped people to do more things, stay-at-home moms to work on college degrees and organizations to become more effective.

In addition to fabulous operational efficiencies, information technology shows great promise in improving the environment. With less paper, commuting and traveling these advancements will lead to less pollution, reduced greenhouse emissions and fewer trees being killed. According to the Comodo Group (www.comodo.com), 17 million trees are cut down in the US each year just for fax paper. Faxes are old technology that can easily be replaced by the more efficient emailing of scanned documents. One wonders why the environmental lobby hasn't pushed for better use of modern technology in offices.

A recent survey (Chicago Tribune 5/14/07) show that 15% of the US population still don't have cell phones or internet connections. Although this is an improvement over the past, many who do have computers do not fully utilize them to their advantage. There are still many who hate using the computer or the internet. Many insist on using outdated, inefficient methods and stubbornly resist using the best of existing technology to do their jobs. Often they obstruct others by refusing to properly use email, voice mail or computer software as it was designed. This phenomenon is known as "Technophobia".

We have always had technophobes but it seems that earlier generations were less resistant to advances such as automobiles, airplanes, telephones, modern medicine and weapons than many today who seem to hate computer technology. Modern technophobes appear to be older and less educated, but they can be found among all ages and education levels.

Many seem to dismiss anti computer technophobes as harmless, the way some view groups as the Amish, but I disagree. Technophobes not only harm themselves, but they impede the efficiency of their workplaces costing the economy billions.

Not being a psychologist, I don't fully understand why technophobes behave the way they do. I suspect that many of these people are haunted by certain fears. Managers fear losing control over their staff. Employees fear becoming obsolete and there is always the fear of having to learn something new and difficult. Technophobes often camouflage these fears with specious objections that sound valid but are just phony pretexts. We need to recognize these excuses for what they are and be prepared to respond tactfully but firmly. Some of these excuses and recommended responses:

1. Email is too insecure. "Actually, email is one of the most secure means of communication. It is more secure than faxing or regular mail. If you want to add more protection, you can double encrypt your messages. Let me show you how."
2. Computers are too difficult "My children in elementary school have to become proficient in PowerPoint and Excel to do their schoolwork. This software is literally child's-play. Certainly we grown-ups should be able to do this."
3. Can you fax that to me? "I would rather email the report to you as it takes up many pages and our company requires us to take reasonable steps to protect our proprietary data."
4. You can't teach an old dog new tricks "Perhaps, but old humans can learn new things. There are people over the age of 90 who use email and the internet."
5. All this computerization will cost us our jobs "We will lose our jobs anyway if the boss ever finds out that children know how to use this software. It's a new world out there and if we don't become proficient at this stuff, we will all be out on the street!"
6. I like to see reports on paper. "Paper reports are costly and eat up profits. They also kill millions of trees. You do care about the environment, don't you?"
7. I know I placed that order. "You should have emailed the document instead of mailing or faxing it. There is no other reasonable way to confirm that it was sent. If you use email, fewer orders will be missed."
8. I tried to call you. "You should have left a voice mail message. If you had, I certainly would have been able to respond to you in time."
9. What did we ever do before computers? - "The same things we did before other technological advances. We lived shorter and more difficult lives. You might as well ask how we survived without telephones."

There are many problems with any new technology, but the benefits outweigh the costs. Most technophobes will eventually come around and catch up with the rest of us. Compassionate but firm responses to their objections will speed this process and improve productivity and profits.

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More about this author: Jim Moroney

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