Practitioner Talk: When technophobia gets in the way

Technophobia: …the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers. (Wikipedia)

One of the very real challenges faced by some mediators wanting to offer technology-assisted services is technophobia – their own, as well as that of some of their clients. With the ever-increasing speed of technology developments, technophobia is not likely to go away and may, I suspect, become even more prevalent as an issue, particularly with the over 50’s crowd.

Why does this matter?  At first blush, technophobia seems merely a minor obstacle to taking advantage of some of our modern day conveniences.  For mediators, however, it can be a major disadvantage on two fronts.  When it comes to offering services in today’s competitive marketplace, a mediator’s own technophobia can seriously cripple his or her abilities to serve the growing number of clients who expect and demand the use of current information and communication technologies, including some of the cost-savings that can accompany their use.  Additionally, technophobia can limit a mediator’s ability to offer services to what is an increasingly geographically dispersed client base.  For example, without the use of technology, it is virtually impossible to provide mediation services to clients located in different parts of our vast country.  Clients’ technophobia comes with similar disadvantages.  In today’s digitalized world, it can be a major impediment to accessing important services, including – for clients who live in remote areas or at a distance from their former spouse – services to assist with issues arising from separation and divorce.

Identifying technophobia
How do you know if your resistance – or a client’s – to using a technology for mediation is due to technophobia or is rooted in another cause?  Following is a list of “symptoms” of technophobia which appeared in Technophobia is Conquerable! by Uma G. Gupta, Dean of College of Technology at the University of Houston:

  • Fear of computers and related technologies
  • Resistance to automating processes
  • Unwillingness to change from one system to another or one software to another
  • Highly critical of any technology changes or implementations
  • Passive resistance to new technology initiatives
  • Unwilling to attend training classes
  • Slow to learn new technologies
  • Providing excuses for not attending training sessions
  • Relentlessly arguing the lack of need for technologies
  • Pleading “the old way is the best way!”
  • Convincing colleagues that “I have made it this far without technology. Why now?”

Strategies to explore
The good news is that if the “symptoms” in the list above sound familiar to you, and you’ve decided it’s time to tackle your technophobia – or help someone with theirs – you do have a multitude of strategies to choose from.  Here are just a few of the possibilities I came across while doing a simple Google search on the subject:

1.  Examine the source of the technophobia.  InI Don’t Get It”:  How to Teach Technology to Technophobes (posted on “HR World”), David Hakala emphasizes the importance of understanding the fear underlying technophobia: “What technophobes truly fear is loss of status, money, control or something else that they value. Somehow, technology poses a threat to something that the person fears losing, and so technology is met with resistance.”

If you think your technophobia stems from a fear of losing something of value to you, try taking some of the suggestions Hakala has for technology trainers and applying them to yourself.  For example, consider how empowering it would be to be able to find the information you want, when you want it, without having to rely on others.  Find out how colleagues of yours are using technology to their benefit.  Is it enhancing their value somehow?  Is its use increasing their productivity or allowing them to create niches for themselves?   Think about how using technology might be to your advantage also.

2.  Keep the technology simple.  Nick Tidd tackles the issue in Overcoming Techno-Phobia (posted on “Canada One”) by addressing the question of whether small business owners should invest in technology.  (As an aside, his answer to that question is an unqualified “yes”.)  He recommends four basic principles to use when deciding where to make such an investment – principles that can also help in reducing technophobia:  spending money can save money; keep it safe; keep it simple; live for today, grow for tomorrow.

His third principle may be particularly helpful with regards to minimizing the intimidation factor that can be involved in trying new technologies:  Keep the technology simple.  As he puts it, “Look for technology that is simple, reliable and easy to use. Don’t be satisfied with complex technology equipment or solutions: demand something simple to install, operate and maintain with minimal technology expertise and resources.”

3.  Too shy to take a course? A technology trainer doesn’t fit your style or budget? Try self-learning.  Adult education courses are widely available and are a great way to work with a teacher who understands the fears that can come with trying to master a new technology.  Similarly, using the services of a technology trainer who can come to your office, home or wherever the technology is to be used has obvious benefits, particularly if they are available to assist you after the training is completed.  But, if neither of these works for you, there are other options for learning to use a technology, including through self-learning.  This may, ironically, require regularly using the computer to get on the Internet – which in itself may not be a bad strategy for overcoming technophobia!

Among the many self-study possibilities is one of my personal favorites:  viewing Common Craft’s web-based instructional videos.  Common Craft specializes in short (3 minute), simple videos which cover a range of subjects in “plain English”.  Their technology video selection includes cloud computing, computer hardware and software, computer viruses and threats, online photo sharing, RSS, phishing, protecting reputations online, Twitter, wikis and much more.  According to the Common Craft website, you can either view the videos for free on their site or licence them for professional use.  You can check them out at:  http://www.commoncraft.com/videos.

4.  “Trick yourself into learning by working on a project that’s close to your heart.”  This suggestion appears in 8 Tips for Overcoming Web-Technophobia on the Magnetic Webworks blog.  As Doron Orenstein, the blogger, points out, learning accelerates when you are working on something that you enjoy:  “Rather than forcing yourself into a crash-course with a stress-filled looming deadline, come up with a project that is low-pressure, but still important….[Select a project] that’s fun and meaningful enough to inspire you to persevere through the challenges, but not something that could possibly interfere with your job or your business if not done perfectly.”

If these or the many other suggestions available on the Internet do not help ease your technophobia, you may want to consider a strategy frequently mentioned by many of my colleagues:  Enlist the help of your teenager.  While the suggestion is often offered lightly, it does get at a potentially fruitful idea for dealing with technophobia.  By having technologically adept and enthusiastic family members or friends help you, you open yourself to the possibility of experiencing and seeing technology in the positive light that they do.  At the very least, even if their proficiency or attitude about technology fails to rub off on you, you will have had the opportunity to spend some extra quality time with them.

Photo credit:  computer pug by jmatthew3

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