Overcoming a Fear of PCs
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, personal computers 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 of 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.
In work settings, two-thirds of people are “hesitant” about technology, says Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills. According to Rosen’s studies, fully 80 percent of people feel that workplace technology has brought additional stresses to their lives.
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?
Rosen, who prefers the broader term “technostress” over the more common terms “technophobia” or “computerphobia,” says the first step 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 you want.
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 frenzied lives.
“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 increase 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, Rosen suggests seeking out help wherever you can, including your family. It may be a cliche 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. One-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 afraid.
— Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or
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