Neophobia is the fear of new things. For some people, this means that using the internet, which is rapidly becoming a centerpiece of many people’s lives, is a frightening experience. A recent study, carried out by British Telecom showed that some people found using the internet to be just as stressful as first-time bungee jumping. The company is now doing further research in an attempt to determine if these barriers are something that can be overcome, or if there is something more fundamental blocking novices from embracing the internet age.
Participants in the study will be closely monitored by psychologists. They will take physiological readings of the participants as they use the net, in an attempt to determine how their bodies and minds react to the experience. In the process, each participant will be given access to technology and instruction and coaching in what they can do with it. Each has been given a broadband connection, a laptop, and web-cam, and a digital camera. They will record their experiences, which will then be viewable on the project’s website.
The interesting thing to me will be to attempt to gain some level of understanding of people who have a difficult time making use of technology I take for granted. I have never found I faced any particular mental barriers to making use of new technology, but I have certainly known those who did. I hope that being able to read the results of this study will help me to understand where those people are coming from.
The study will also be an important part of the understanding that will be necessary to address the growing gap between those who have access to the internet and are able to use it and those who are not. Interestingly, the preliminary stages of the study found that many of those who most strongly resisted using the internet were not people who did not have access to it, but were in fact members of households who had broadband connections.
Finding ways to address the fears and difficulties of people who have trouble finding their peace with the rapidly changing face of technology is an important consideration in areas far broader than just internet usage. The exponential growth of radio ID tags, sensors, interactive displays, and all of the myriad other technologies that increasingly dominate our lives will make the ability to at least use, if not warmly embrace, new ideas and devices an absolutely indispensable skill to anyone hoping to live day to day in our society.
Understanding the process that some people not as naturally comfortable with these changes as myself will, I hope, better enable me to manage my ability to deal with the people around me every day, which is something that I sometimes find difficult. We each have things we are less comfortable with than others. With luck, this study might help people on both sides of that line.