Technophobia (fear of technology) is an irrational fear of advanced technology, such as computers, mobile phones, tablets and other devices. Although gaining attention most recently, this condition has been documented since the 1800s.
Technophobia is the extreme fear or dislike of advanced technology. People with technophobia are resistant to technology to the point where it hinders the normal activities of daily living, such as work, school or friendships. During today’s times, technophobia mainly represents a fear of computers but historically, there have been people with an irrational fear of technology for hundreds of years. Technophobia is a relatively new term, coming into use within the last 20 years, but anxiety and fear of technology first began being documented during the Industrial Revolution.
• Uncomfortable users: These are people who are uncomfortable using and learning about technology.
• Cognitive computerphobes: These are people who actively avoid using technology, possibly to the detriment of their life.
• Anxious computerphobes: These are people who approach technology with caution and fear, possibly having a panic attack when faced with using technology.
While there aren’t any estimates as to how many people experience a type of technophobia, studies from the 1990s and 2000s found high levels of technophobic fears in college students and new employees around the world. It’s also been documented that an increase in advancement in technology is increasing the rate of irrational fear of technology.
Real-life examples of technophobia range from experiencing anxiety when learning to use a new technology or software, withdrawing socially from others who use technology, believing technology to be “out to get them,” to refusing to use ATMs. The root fear varies between people, and some common examples include:
The most important factor in coping with technophobia is understanding the root cause of the fear, regardless of whether that fear is real or perceived. Initially, it makes little difference to the person experiencing technophobia. There are a number of coping skills and therapies often prescribed for people experiencing overwhelming fear, which will be covered later in this article.
The symptoms of technophobia vary and may look like avoidance, dislike, distrust, paranoia or extreme and irrational fear of technology. The symptoms may, but not always, present as anxiety when faced with technology, including breathlessness, dizziness, excessive perspiration, nausea, dry mouth, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly, becoming angry or losing control of emotions, sensation of detachment from reality or even a full-blown panic attack. While technophobia is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is consistent with the diagnostic criteria for other phobias. Typically, a person experiencing symptoms related to technophobia for six months or more may require treatment.
The signs of technophobia in the workplace or in school present as a reluctance to use a computer and related technologies, resistance to automation in technology, unwillingness to learn new systems or software, being critical of technological changes or implementation and passive or active resistance to new technology initiatives.
Technophobes are often equated to Luddites, but this is a misnomer. Luddites were a historical group who resisted (and destroyed) technology as a social stance, not only out of fear. This term is used interchangeably with technophobe but is historically inaccurate.
Like all phobias, there isn’t a specific cause for the condition. Typically, a troubling instance in the person’s past may cause emotional damage or trauma, leading to the development of a phobia. It could come from seeing or experiencing job loss, identity theft or other issues related to technology; it varies between individuals. Depending on the age and type of person the instance happens to, technophobia may manifest itself as a mild annoyance to a serious obstacle.
Mental health professionals are best equipped to help those suffering from technophobia (fear of technology), and treatments vary from person-to-person. The goal of many phobia treatments begin by identifying the root cause of the fear and developing a treatment plan based on the needs of the individual. This may include talk therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and others, along with the development of coping skills to mitigate day-to-day anxiety.
Phobia therapy has been found to be very effective, with the majority of patients successfully managing or overcoming their fears completely. There are many therapists and peer groups with specialities in phobias, fear, anxiety and trauma, all of which may help someone struggling with technophobia, not only with the condition itself but with the psychological effects of it, as well. There may also be underlying mental health issues contributing to fear or anxiety of technology. Therapists are trained to identify and help people understand their feelings surrounding these issues.
Because technophobia is a result of a traumatic experience, and everyone experiences trauma differently, there is no kind of test, screening or preventative measure one can take to keep someone from developing the condition. Increasing awareness and training surrounding technophobia, especially in the technology industry, can help people understand and better recognize the symptoms, especially to the people who may be experiencing it themselves.
From a social standpoint, increasing exposure to technology training and support, particularly sharing information about how it works and why, is one way to ease the discomfort, including potential discomfort, of people using technology. Additionally, recognizing the cognitive overload the advancement of technology can cause helps those with fears relate and understand that they’re not the only ones struggling. With the speed of advancement and the increasingly younger entry-point to the technological world, the gap between those who use it and those who fear it is widening. Separating these two groups only further alienates, and possibly further traumatizes, people with technophobia.
One way to prevent a traumatic experience with technology from happening in the first place is by creating a friendly and non-threatening learning environment at all age levels. Also, allowing room to make mistakes helps people see that failure isn’t a reflection of their intellectual abilities (something that can cause emotional damage), but rather a natural learning process.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a phobia and its related psychological effects, you are encouraged to reach out to a mental health professional. There is help out there for technophobia and other fears.