Internet Neophobia

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.

3 Responses to Internet Neophobia

  1. Mary says:

    In one of my classes, someone reported there were two kinds of technophobes. One of them was people who were afraid of breaking or ruining something. When dealing with a computer or Internet issue, that would be me.

    I think that is due to the evolution of computers in my lifetime, and I don’t know, but I am guessing it’s more common among people in my age bracket. When we first started using computers for word processing, for example, it was very easy to hit the wrong key and lose all the work you had just been doing. Later, before firewalls and so on, we had to deal with viruses and so on when these were brand new problems.

    Even turning the computer off before you had made sure to perform some specific functions was risky.

    I think there is also the privacy/identity theft issue. Even though those issues can and do occur in face-to-face interaction, there is something a little scarier about sending something off into this unknown, unseen place.

    As I have gotten older, though, I realize there are more protections in place for things not to go wrong. If someone has avoided computers and the Internet due to their earlier experiences, they might not realize that it’s not as easy to cause or invite problems as it used to be.

  2. Dana says:

    My grandmother admitted just last night that if she had to do one thing over again in her old age, it would be to consent to learn to use a computer, because no one sends her letters anymore, but she knows all her computer-literate friends are getting lots of email.

    Mostly, I suspect, this just means I should send her a letter. She’s 88 tomorrow; she has no intention of overcoming her dislike of this new technology.

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