Magazine article Newsweek

Putting Your Best Fear Forward

Magazine article Newsweek

Putting Your Best Fear Forward

Article excerpt

Technophobia: How unwired

Luddites can mother invention

Like many born before circuits were integrated and TV strove to be interactive, Robert Robards, 63, tried his best to keep his distance from computers. His sons pleaded with him for years to embrace the new technology he feared, but Robards, the director of a shelter for the homeless in Boston, still stubbornly resisted. He'd say, "It's not me. It ain't my world."

He was not alone. Millions of Americans are technophobes, running from the high tide of high tech sweeping into their lives. A recent U.S. study found that 55 percent of those surveyed showed some sign of technophobia. Some are simply spooked by anything electronic, from beeping answering machines to blinking VCRs. Many more feel threatened by the omnipresent computer. Technophobes tend to be people older than 45 who didn't grow up with the devices they are now expected to master. And, true to gender stereotyping, experts say, high-tech fears are more common among women than among men.

Yet technophobes are even more misunderstood than they are numerous. just because they cling to a tech-lite lifestyle doesn't make them obstructors o progress. In. fact, technophobes have historically propelled technology in a fear-forward way. Their resistance has forced innovators to create even more sophisticated technologies that the phobic will accept. More often than not, the product of all that fear is one that is easier to use. "A good example is the automatic transmission," says Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor who is an expert in how humans relate to computers. Many early motorists were intimidated by manual transmissions. In response, automotive engineers in the 1930s developed the superior hydraulic technology that required little of the driver. The same paradox also rules consumer electronics. Point-and-shoot cameras, robotized with chips and infrared sensors, are far more advanced than their brainless cousins with their manual f-stops and shutter speeds. …

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