If I could get over technophobia-- so can you.
Just because I was an early adopter of computers didn’t mean I took to technology.
In 1983 I was a freelancer in my thirties cranking out 6 stories a month for Bottom Line Personal, a consumer newsletter that paid handsomely, when I got a clunky computer as a gift from my parents
The Kaypro II, one of the first “portable” computers made, cost over $1500 and weighed 26 pounds with a 9-inch glowing green screen. Running a now-obsolete operating system called CP/M and using huge floppy disks which held all of about 20 pages of text, it was the cutting edge of technology at the time. It wasn’t easy to operate. There were no handy lists of commands like “save” or “copy” to click on. In fact there was no clicking because there was no mouse. You had to memorize codes in DOS and type them in.
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Just because I was an early adopter of computers didn’t mean I took to technology. The opposite in fact. That Kaypro terrified me. I tiptoed towards it every morning, expecting the worst when I flipped the “on” switch. Maybe the story I wrote would have disappeared from the disc, or it would refuse to turn on and I’d get the green screen of death, or it would mysteriously switch from one file to another (all of which happened).
Instead of trying to troubleshoot I’d have a severe anxiety attack and run for the phone. I was so panicked that I called the salesman who sold it to me at least five times a day (the computer store offered unlimited customer service—another obsolete concept). I called so often I would hear the poor guy grumbling in the background: “it’s her again,” and try to fob me off on someone else.
My typical complaint was, “If I double space I can only get half a page of text on the screen. How am I supposed to work without seeing a whole page at the same time.” (It never occurred to me to single space and then convert to double at the end). Or, “how do you get the paper in the printer?” To print you had to fit paper that came in perforated sheets with little holes on the sides that fit into the roller in the printer.
The Kaypro II did not send email, do Google searches or access Facebook because the Internet did not exist at the time. You couldn’t attach a document and send it. I still had to take the subway to file my stories.
What the Kaypro did do--which was nothing short of miraculous—was cut and paste. Until then, after writing a story, I’d actually sit on the floor cutting up paragraphs, laying them out and moving them around until they made sense. Then I’d scotch tape them on another piece of paper, retype the whole thing, and cut and paste again, and retype again. That little computerized function, cut and paste, cut literally 50% off my work time. I went from having a full time job to a part time job without a loss in pay.
You would think that after allowing me to become a lady of leisure I would fall in love with technology and with the Kaypro II, but I still hated that goddamn thing, although not enough to go back to physically cutting and pasting. Eventually I moved on to a series of better computers but I’d hang on to outmoded ones as long as possible, terrified of learning anything new.
Eventually I graduated to desktops and then laptops which stored information on a hard drive, not on floppy discs. My friend Toni, a real computer maven, kept telling me to back up my data but I never did. She joked “there are two types of computer users, those who have lost data, and those who are about to…” I was neither. Unlike just about everyone I know, I have never had a hard drive crash. Then the Cloud and Google and Dropbox were invented and everything was backed up for me. Whew! I dodged a bullet.
I slowly overcame my fear of technology…slowly…very, very slowly. I think like any phobia, constant exposure simply desensitized me to the source of my panic. It took me at least thirty years but one day (not that long ago) I started noticing that I was able to troubleshoot most problems myself without making frantic phone calls. Out of necessity I’d learned how computers worked without realizing it.
Eventually I was the one getting hysterical calls from technophobic older friends who couldn’t figure something out, instead of the one making them.
By then I’d fallen in love with technology. I got a cell phone, then a smartphone, then the latest Samsung Note, and became entranced, gazing at my phone for hours, asking Google inane questions and marveling at the answers.
My phone is now glued to my body—the fear of losing it is what causes me extreme anxiety.
That doesn’t mean I am cured. I still have relapses into technophobia. I have a geeky friend, Jeremy, who takes care of setting up my TV’s, which keep getting bigger. I was in awe when he set up my latest LG OLED TV which has an interface so buggy that it defeated the manufacturer’s advice (and has stumped various LG forums). I did actually manage to set up my latest laptop all by myself, but I rely on Jeremy to troubleshoot my printer. I felt really embarrassed this last time though, when he simply unplugged it and plugged it back in and voila, it whirred to life.
I am convinced that my new passion for technology is helping fend off Alzheimer’s. I write a column for SeniorPlanet.com on technology for seniors, but I have to figure out what the subject matter is in order to explain it. I can feel my brain building new connections every time I explain things like the difference between 3g, 4g and 5g.
The downside is I am increasingly frustrated by my peers who refuse to learn technology. Some of them won’t even get smartphones but are hanging on to their old flip phones until they’re pried from their cold, dead hands. I offer to help to no avail. Some technophobes improved during the pandemic when they were forced to use Zoom, but others have now reverted to their old ways.
I understand the panic that arises when your computer crashes or your phone fails to do your bidding. No matter what you know about technology, it’s not even a drop in the bucket of what there is to know. Even Jeremy gets stumped by some tech glitches.
So don’t just succumb to technophobia. Or come up with some lame excuse about how you have disdain for technology—that the good old days when telephones were attached to walls were somehow better— a defense mechanism all too many seniors use. The sad truth is that technophobia cuts you off from the modern world. We’re living in an era where change is so rapid that we are obsolete unless we keep up.
If you make the effort you can improve. Just don’t just convince yourself that you’re too old.
Read this helpful article written by yours truly and follow my advice, If you have questions, feel free to ask.
My first computer was more of a custom made job, but similar to the Kaypro. I remember wondering what the hell I was going to do with 16k of memory. Then I got the radio shack model 100, which had a primitive communication capability, and the rest is history.
My first computer was also a Kaypro II, and I was sad to part with it when the CP/M operating system went the way of the dinosaurs, thanks to Microsoft.