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Joanna Grimbley Smith
15th April 2020 · 10 min read
Let me guess:
You’re reading this article - ahem, this awesome article - on your phone, aren’t you?
Or perhaps your laptop?
Or maybe even your tablet?
However you choose to absorb your news and know-how, one thing is for sure:
(To misquote Madonna.)
We are living in a technological world.
Our mobiles tell us where are next meeting is, our Sat Nav tells us how to get there, and our laptops contain that Prezi presentation you’ve been practicing all week.
That’s all before we’ve ordered our lunch with a trusty app!
But while most of us can’t wait to get our hands on the latest tech, some choose to steer clear. And with automation set to be the next business buzzword, the fear of the machine is only expected to grow.
This growth of this group didn’t start with the rumour that Jeff Bezos was listening in on your family dinners to twig the next marketing campaign that is personalised to you, however.
It started 200 years ago.
And the technophobes are still following suit.
As we ride the crest of the new wave of technological advances - like all of our business processes being automated by some very clever people - there are sure to be some people sitting on the shore yelling “shark!”.
This is especially true given the uncertainty regarding the safety of our data - and even our democracy - in the world of tech. Cambridge Analytica is still stamped across newspapers and news sites alike, and has left us shaking in our domains...
But even though automation can pull your business processes into swift and seamless motion, machines aren’t ready to take over the world.
Digital transformation is the technical term for this technical process that helps shift businesses like yours into the 21st century. It shapes your business processes, culture, and customer experience to meet the new demands of the modern world.
And you don’t have to do it on your own.
You don’t have to do it at all!
Your business can't afford to be run by technophobes.
You need a technology-team beside you every step of the way.
Not quite convinced?
Neither was, well, anyone through history.
Technology is scary, and change is, too! But time and time again, our ancestors have been proven wrong.
Our concerns and our qualms were answered, and human progress proved that change was actually a good thing.
So, if you’re not ready to click ‘upgrade’ for your business…
Or if you’re not sure how to click ‘upgrade’ for your business…
Then you’re in the right place.
This article is going to take you through a complete history of technophobia, and how at every twist and turn of technology, our concerns have been crushed.
“Alexa - when did technophobia start?
Who were the luddites?
And what else did technophobes oppose before they all started #hating on you?”
Technophobes are people that hate technology with a capital ‘H’.
Maybe they find technology difficult or uncomfortable to use, maybe they experience anxiety when confronting a new piece of complicated technology, or maybe they simply dislike tech altogether!
Whatever causes the fear of upgrading their phone - or even owning a phone - makes a technophobe a technophobe.
But you won’t just spot them on the bus trying to unlock their mobile with a swipe motion that would make you wince…
In 2000, a report claimed 85-90% of new employees at an organisation are technophobes.
Most were simply uncomfortable with this tech, showing signs of the phobia.
How do you think times have changed since then?
Then you’ll be the first to tell me that change can be scary.
Even when it’s a good thing, like a spike in profit, or a marketing campaign that worked exactly as you thought it would!
Its this fear of change that fuels technophobia.
Still not sure about taking things digital?
Consider the automation of your business’ processes:
We press a button and you get back to running your business. Sounds super-awesome right?
But to some, this sounds like this is cutting out the need for some of your employees that might be behind running these processes!
The threat of job losses are the most common cause painted on banners and yelled at the authorities by the technophobes from way-back-when - but that fear of loss still reigns supreme for those that live in fear of a pop-up on their laptop.
These ideas have even grounded themselves as fictional icons.
Ever heard of Frankenstein?
Ever seen Metropolis?
The main characters represent beings that are controlled by tech and end up threatening society as we know it.
Both of these works show the dark side of tech, embodying the anxiety some of us still seem to harbour about AI taking control.
“So, technophobes are a pretty recent thing, right?”
That depends on how you define ‘recent’.
Last week? Nah.
An odd 200 years ago? Yep.
“Wait - they were using the term ‘technophobe’ in the 1700s?”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard the word ‘technophobe’ thrown about in a period drama.
Sure, the word ‘technology’’ - or some old-fashioned term - was being used among the educated classes, but they had a word for people that were afraid of innovation and change.
And they were called Luddites.
During the industrial revolution, machinery began to take centre stage.
Skilled craftsmen who were once paid good wages were swapped for machines and underpaid workers who would use them.
Thanks to the resulting fear of job losses, a group of weavers began to take a stand and destroyed the machines threatening their livelihoods.
By 1727 - a solid 50 years after the initial stirrings of the movement - parliament made the demolition of machines a capital offense.
This law did not halt the tide of the soon-to-be Luddites.
In 1811, the anti-technology group championed the fictional tale of a man named ‘Ludd’, passing down the name to their own movement.
But opposing the use of machinery wasn’t the only driving force behind their beliefs: they also petitioned for trade rights and raided houses for supplies, focusing their attention on supporting those that were facing economic hardship at the hands of new technology.
Sure, it seems like the legacy of the luddites has failed…
Nevertheless, the concept of the technophobe started here, fuelling a belief-system that would last over 200 years.
As of October 2014, there were 2 billion PCs in use across the world.
That’s a lot of laptops doing a lot of things…
Maybe the machines have taken over?
Hands up if you hate using Microsoft Excel to organise your data.
Keep your hands up if you can’t use Excel at all!
You are not alone.
The world is crammed full of technophobes, whether it’s down to generational differences or the consequences of economic disparity.
But technophobia didn’t just start with the luddites burning down factories and end with people struggling to understand the concept of the ‘double-click’.
There was a few pit-stops along the way, confirming that trying to keep up with tech has never been easy.
And the first sign of trouble turns up before ludditism even became a movement…
The Printing Press - 15th Century
Back in the 1440s, the printing press took its very first steps, introducing new way to produce books.
However - like most forms of innovative tech - it threatened the employees that used to carry out the task manually.
Stack on top of that the possibility of the poor being able to interpret their bible themselves, and we arrive at some serious opposition.
Question is, are we still afraid of manually printed books?
And are we still anxious about putting monks out of work?
The Steam Engine - 19th Century
The Victorians were frightened of many things - but their real terror went beyond baring an ankle or watching out for the Artful Dodger.
The steam train was also in their sights!
The railways pointed to the alteration of social hierarchy and the threat to anything that physically stood in their way, whether it be the British countryside, or her citizens.
The sheer speed the engines could produce and the pace the technology was traveling at marked the railways for opposition.
Luckily enough, the only disdain for trains we express for trains these days is when they’re delayed again.
The Telephone - Late 19th Century
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for our elderly relatives to complain about how you young’ uns are always on your telephone machines…
Typin’ away and always buzzing …
But your Nan wasn’t the first person to complain about the telephone.
When telephones first entered popular usage in the 1930s, they were on the receiving end of a lot of uncertainty.
How did they work?
Were they dangerous to stand near during a lightning storm?
Wouldn’t we all just become gossips, talking on the blower ‘til all hours?
You tell me.
In 2008, the UK Post Office coined the term ‘Nomophobia’.
This is the fear of being without a mobile phone.
Nomophobic, or technophobic - which one are you?
The Car - Early 20th Century
Technophobes weren’t afraid of the car. Autophobes were.
“A large proportion of accidents happen because the other users of the street refuse to acknowledge and adapt to the changed circumstances brought about by the appearance of the motor car.”
This excerpt from a German motoring magazine from 1909 confirms the change in gear brought about the new machinery that just hit the road.
With a loud garish rumble did the car speed in the 20th century, cutting roads deep into the countryside and threatening innocent pedestrians with crashes and collisions.
Well, if you managed to get your car out of the driveway, that is.
Most car journeys throughout Western Europe were disrupted by rural workers throwing stones at the wealthy as they toured the country in their new tech.
Not so much of a problem, now, is it?
The Television - 20th Century
With radio having recently been accepted into society, adding on moving pictures on top of the sound was certainly a shock to the new viewers of the television.
The mix of inventors credited with the invention - from Philo Farnsworth to John Baird - might have been forgotten, but the technophobia once clouding the screen certainly has not.
Yet despite this, there was an assuredness that this would not last.
Why would people want to stare at a box all day? They don’t have time for that.
And if they did, they’d simply get bored, right?
Even recently has this fervor continued:
"I am very skeptical of this talk of 500 channels. I just don't know what's going to play on them."
Who said that?
The CEO of Viacom in 1994.
I suppose maybe they were right… Maybe television wasn’t meant to last - it’s been replaced by streaming technology, instead!
The Computer - Late 20th Century
I’m writing this article on a computer.
I’m researching for its content on a computer.
And when I’ve finished editing this article, I’ll publish it using a computer.
This tech only hit the markets in the 1980s, and our phobia of it has melted away at an impressive rate…
But anxiety regarding laptops and their ancestors defines technophobia in the modern age:
Fear of damaging the technology, fear of not being as knowledgeable about them when compared to others, and the fear of one day being replaced by them all fuel our phobia.
That’s because we’ve been spouting these concerns for centuries.
This computerphobia even worked its way into the magazines, newspapers, and manuals in the peak era of concern (the 1980s):
"Who knows, maybe even the most dedicated computerphobes in your company will warm up to the PC after this"
This quote is from an IBM Gem advert - something we would now expect to see blaring across the banner of some online news site…
Let’s be honest.
(It’s ok - this is a safe space.)
We might be totally-obsessed with tech, but you don’t have to be.
Fact is, every new change - from the page of a printed book to the touchscreen - is met with opposition.
Concerns regarding the public, and uncertainty regarding where it might progress feature as just a few of the fears flourishing around new technology.
But as much as it’s okay to accept that change can be scary, it’s a necessity to accept that is necessary, too.
And that’s where we come in.
As we settle into our digital world, your business needs to stay ahead of your competition.
And with a digital transformation, we can take control of your tech, and make it work for you and your clients.
(Instead of you trying to work it out on your own!)
We can automate your business processes, and you can get back to running your business.
Now it’s over to you:
What new invention had you running for the hills?
And which reaction to historic digital transformations had you #shook?
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