Technophobia Is a Fear Related to the Loss of Control

Using Technology At Night in Bed

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The fear of technology, also known as technophobia, is the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers. Technophobia is surprisingly common. In fact, some experts believe that we all suffer at least a small amount of nervousness when confronted with new technology. In today's rapidly changing world, it can be easy to feel out of touch.

Fear of Technology Through the Ages

Technophobia may seem like a new phenomenon, a product of the information age that began in the 1960s and continues to ramp up at lightning speed today. Yet there were reports of technophobia at least as early as the Industrial Revolution.

Whenever there are major changes in how we do things, particularly if machines are involved, technophobia is likely to occur.

Fear of Technology Social and Cultural Factors

The more we use an item, the more comfortable we become with that item. Traditionally, teens and young adults are the first to embrace new products and the first to become proficient with them, followed shortly by younger children. Adults are generally somewhat slower to adopt new technologies, and some seniors may never embrace them. For example, when I was a kid in the 1980s, everybody knew that if your VCR clock was flashing, you had to get a kid to set it. Today, my grandmother, now in her 90s, refuses to own a cell phone.

Gender differences may also play a role, although this seems to be changing. In the early days of the personal computer revolution, the stereotypical computer user was a male in his 20s or early 30s, probably living in his parents' basement. Although stereotypes are usually wrong, many females inherently believed that they were unable to relate to computers. Now, of course, computers are a ubiquitous part of life for most people, male or female.

New Technology Makes Us Feel Out of Control

In the late 1980s, my mother's workplace was equipped with a few Commodore 64 computers. My family members were all early adopters, and we've had computers in our house since 1981. But for many of my mom's coworkers, this was their first exposure to the technology. One woman in the office, a highly educated, well-trained mental health therapist, flatly refused to touch any of the computers. She was afraid of hitting the wrong button and wiping out her bank account.

One of the most basic technology fears is rooted in the loss of control. We don't necessarily understand exactly how a new piece of technology works, so our imaginations fill in the details.

It's human nature to want to be in control of our environment, and it's scary to think that we might not have as much control as we had hoped.

Doomsday Phobias

Of course, the ultimate loss of control is a doomsday scenario. From sentient robots bent on destruction to missiles that launch themselves and begin World War III, films, literature, and TV shows are filled with "technology gone wrong." We are afraid of an uncertain future, and our minds begin to fill in the blanks.

Mass Hysteria

Who could forget the Y2K scare? As the rumor went, banks, government agencies, and society as we knew it was going to shut down the moment that we passed into the new millennium. Why? Because computer designers forgot to program the systems to handle four-digit dates. The theory was that the two-digit 00 years would cause the networks to crash.​

Of course, January 1, 2000, came and went without incident. Most major systems were already capable of handling four-digit dates, and those that didn't were mostly reprogrammed well before the critical date. Even those home computers that weren't reprogrammed made it through with barely a hiccup. Y2K, along with the original radio broadcast of War of the Worlds and the 1994 TV movie Without Warning, stand as some of the finest examples ever of mass hysteria.

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Article Sources

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). 

  • Miriam-Webster Dictionary online. "Technophobia".