Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Genealogy and Cyberphobia

No, I am not starting the malady of the month club here on Genealogy's Star, but I am once again turning my attention to an issue that comes up almost daily at the Mesa FamilySearch Library: computer  or cyberphobia. Of course, I did not make up this term. In fact, the term was introduced in 1985 to refer to a sense of anxiety or aversion created by technology. Quoting from the Wikipedia article Cyberphobia:
Some forms of cyberphobia may range from the more passive forms of technophobia of those who are indifferent toward cyberspace to the responses of those who see digital technology as a medium of intrusive surveillance; more extreme responses may involve anti-technological paranoia expressed by social movements that radically oppose ‘technological society’ and ‘the New World Order.
 If you are a victim of cyberphobia, it is unlikely that you are reading this blog post. But it is certain that you know someone who has an irrational fear or aversion to computers. The Cyberphobia article lists the symptoms of this condition:
  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Feeling like your mind is blank
 I wish this were a condition that was made up or created for the purpose of selling something but it is a real problem that impedes many genealogists from acquiring the skills necessary to use computers in their research. I have noticed that in some cases, the fear is sometimes enabled by relatives who "take over" whenever the the symptoms appear in a mother or father. By the way, it doesn't help to tell a person with cyberphobia to go look up a solution to the problem on Google. 

I have had a pretty good exposure to phobias in my lifetime with relatives who lived their whole lives without learning to swim because of a fear of water, relatives who never flew in an airplane because of fear and many other examples. Unfortunately, I also have had relatives who had cyberphobia. One thing I do know, telling the person that there is really no reason for their fear doesn't work at all. The fearful person has to personally decide that the benefits of overcoming the fear, outweigh the fear itself. 

Surprisingly, there are very few serious articles on this subject on the Web. The vast majority of the sites encountered by searching on "cyberphobia" are either selling some assumed treatment or merely commenting on the issue in a very superficial way. What I did find online was a lot of general references to "the professional literature" on the subject, but no specific references. Many of the articles make very general claims attributing cyberphobia to age or economic status, rather than looking at the individual reasons that people may have for being afraid. In addition, finding sources about the subject that treat it in a professional, sympathetic and supportive way is very difficult. 

Overcoming this type of fear is not as simple as just taking a class or sitting down for an hour or two with a willing relative. My personal frustration with this issue is that I am not afforded either the opportunity or the time to really help the many people I encounter. I have quite a few acquaintances who have this difficulty, but are unwilling to spend the time or effort necessary to overcome it. It is likely that such reactions come from embarrassment and the anxiety associated with the fear. But in those few cases where I have been allowed to spend the time talking with and helping people, I have seen some dramatic results. 

Genealogy is an area that is particularly susceptible to this problem due to the collision of the traditional paper and pencil methods of working and the newer methods involving intense computer use. I can almost predict with confidence that when I go to the Library today, I will encounter yet another person who is terrified of computers and needs help in doing simple tasks. I am also certain that in many cases, with patience and support, most of these fears can be allayed.   

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find an antidote to this condition, James. I come across so many sufferers in the genealogy world and would love to help them conquer this affliction.