When I was twelve years old, I got introduced to my first computer. I remember the frustration when pages opened unexpectedly, or the screen froze. I would kick the overworked computer server until, defeatedly, I’d walk over to my brothers’ room and ask for help. To this day, I wearily follow computer instructions and love to hit the ‘remind me tomorrow’ button on all software updates. Technology, with all its numbers and tiny font sized letters, confuses and overwhelms me. Best leave it to the men.
The previous passage describes symptoms of technophobia, which is the anxiety or fear to computer-related technology interaction. Although the term pathologises the phobia, it is likely you have experienced certain symptoms or know someone that has. Particularly, and sadly, if you are female, black or belong to an ethnic minority. In fact, a third of the industrial population are technophobes[i]. Mark Brosnan’s large-scale research project reveals that technophobes in the US tend to be female, average 52 years old, and have less than a college degree. The problem, of course, is culturally rooted, not biologically determined.
As explored in the first entry[ii], it is linked to the harmful socialisation of technology, despite its continuous association with biological reasons. The same study reinforced that ‘self-efficacy, cognitive style, demographic traits and personality types’ were explanatory factors. Ironic, given that when it comes to technologically apprehensive attitudes, we encounter a social panic of job displacement due to technological replacement, which doesn’t make us all technophobes. Perhaps, this is the next mental health crisis in industry 4.0.
Suggesting ‘self-efficacy’ or ‘cognitive style’ are explanatory factors of technophobia is a dangerous oversimplification. Let’s untangle this; one study revealed[iii] that males exhibit higher levels of confidence using technology and lower levels of technophobia in comparison to females, black people and ethnic minorities, who reported higher symptoms of technophobia and computer anxiety. This is unsurprising give that males are incentivised in education and parenting to become technologically literate. As computer experience and technological education increases, technophobia decreases[iv]. Moreover, the masculine values embedded in technology’s interfaces is harming both ways. Males may be shy to admit technology related fears due to the expectations that they simply have to ‘get technology’. Meaning realistically, we cannot account for the amount of people actually suffering of technophobia. But one thing is clear, people are panicking about the presumed encroachment of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies in the modern workplace.
To truly understand the multi-dimensional nature of technophobia’s causes, one has to look beyond the Western and social construction lens. A much more tangible problem is found; technology’s accessibility. In India only 33% of women actively use mobile phones, in comparison to 67% of men[v]. At grand, 60% of countries have yet to achieve gender equality when it comes to technological access[vi]. This remains the most conclusive explanatory factor for technophobia. In developed countries it’s a culture gap, in developing countries it’s a lack of access, and taken all together it’s a lack of technology education and information. To elevate women, racial groups and ethnic minorities in technology we need to leave our androcentric thoughts behind and remember that no one is bad at technology because of a lack of ‘self-efficacy’ or a different ‘cognitive style’. Harmful socialisations reinforce inequitable realities. Perhaps it is time to update my software.
[i] Brosnan, M.J., 1998. Technophobia: the psychological impact of information technology. London: London: Routledge.
[iii] Durndell, A. and Haag, Z., 2002. Computer self-efficacy, computer anxiety, attitudes towards the Internet and reported experience with the Internet, by gender, in an East European sample. Computers in Human Behavior, 18(5), pp.521-535.
[iv] Rosen, L.D. and Weil, M.M., 1995. Computer anxiety: A cross-cultural comparison of university students in ten countries. Computers in Human Behavior, 11(1), pp.45-64.
[v] Pande, R., Schaner, S., 2017. The Mobile Phone Gender Gap: Why Does It Matter and What Can We Do?. Harvard Kennedy School. (https://epod.cid.harvard.edu/article/mobile-phone-gender-gap-why-does-it-matter-and-what-can-we-do)
[vi] Neerukonda, M., 2018. Are Technologies (Gender)-Neutral? Politics and Policies of Digital Technologies. ASCI Journal of Management, 47, pp.32-45.