The other day I was at an appointment and learned that the wife of someone I’ve known for over 20 years, a gal just a few years older than me, an educated and professional woman, can’t use a computer. Her husband told me she just never learned and doesn’t feel the need to. “She prefers the simple life”, he told me. “Sort of the way it used to be.”
I can get that in some ways. Our life has become very over run with technology and very fast paced. May people across the country are feeling the way this man’s wife is feeling. However, this family is not living in cow country or in a rural area. They are living in a very nice suburb of Boston with three very digital teens, one who just graduated college.
This doesn’t really fit the picture of the typical “computer phobe”, does it? We usually think of the older members of our society, people living in very rural areas of the country, the less educated or immigrants who may not have lived in places where technology was available to learn.
In truth, this man’s wife is very much not alone. There are many, many men and women who look just like you and me who have not taking the dive into the digital pond. Some, like the woman I just described, opt to not use a computer, but others shy away from cell phones and there are others who avoid all digital technology.
This isn’t about deciding if you want steak or chicken at a wedding. Not using technology is actually not participating in our world and cutting yourself off from the people in your life. And, it becomes a safety issue because cell phones and computers are how people connect, even in the face of emergencies.
So, what do we do? How do we help these folks understand that their phobia has consequences and is locking them in a time that simply doesn’t exist any more?
Well, we don’t want to come across too strong, that’s for sure. It is not easy for adults to admit they can’t do something, may be fearful and may need help understanding something that seems way over their heads.
For most of this stuff, the fear of using it has blown out of proportion the reality. If we take that as a given, once we get the person to agree to take baby steps, over time success in those steps should do the rest.
You can proceed a number of ways. There are classes in most communities that will help teach adults the technologies they are fearful of. Or, you can make it a family project.
For example, if you are working with a family member on overcoming cell phone fear, pick the task that week you want to work on and get the entire family involved. If it’s texting, everyone send texts now and again so the family member can text back. If it’s calling, do the same and have the family member call you.
For the computer, start with the on button then find some simple tutorials on YouTube to help your family member with whatever they want to learn: email, the internet, word processing, etc. Then find some fun ways to learn those skills.
If you are working on email, have everyone send and receive emails. You can get creative by then sending links to the internet so your family member gets online and sees how easy it is to play around a web browser.
The key is making the entire exploration of technology fun, nonjudgmental and not a race. The more you do all do together, the more your relative will see the value in these tools, and the more the fear will drift away. Before long you’ll find yourself with a tech lover on your hands and a new member of the overly connected like the rest of us. (Once that occurs, be sure you steer them to my posts on unplugging!)