Technology is commonly thought of as the tools developed and employed by humans, and the associated sets of human practice.  The presence of the second phrase ("and the associated sets of human practice") brings into emphasis the human dimension that goes beyond pure machinery.  In the past two centuries, technology made rapid progress so as to revolutionize all aspects of human life --- steam engines, electricity, printing machines, vaccines, automobiles, airplanes, telephone, radio, weapons of mass destruction, satellites, television, computers, genetic engineering, cloning, etc.  The impact of any technological innovation is necessarily measured with respect to the human dimensions.

While the technical tools continued to be invented and deployed at rapid pace, the ability of all humans to accept, accommodate and embrace technology moved at varied pace.  One possible reaction to technological progress is techno phobia, which is the term used to characterize the aversion or anxiety caused by technology.  In Hal Hellmann's book, technophobia is defined as "fear of technology, fear of science, fear of change in general."

The major technological breakthrough of the past twenty years is the computer revolution.  With respect to computer technology, the technophobes are most likely those who did not grow up using a computer (or even a simple calculator).  Their personal aversion and anxiety about computers may be due to many reasons.  They may like what they are used to doing and do not want to change.  They may feel embarrassed to be surpassed by people who are much younger and less experienced in life.  They may not want their awkward efforts to learn the new technology be subject to public scrutiny.  They may feel that it is too late in their lives to learn something completely new and different, which may be quite useless anyway because the next technological revolution may be just around the corner.  They may be afraid of breaking a complicated and expensive piece of equipment.  They may be worried that the world is being taken over by some unseen people who control the workings of the computers that run the world.  They may fear that their privacy is being monitored when they use computers.  They may feel vulnerable when they use the computer, as they have heard horror stories about identity thefts and other computer fraud schemes.

Objections to technology also occur at the higher planes of the social sciences.  Philosophically, technology is not neutral, and it has good and bad effects, many of which are unforeseen and may exact a steep price.  Socially, technology homogenize society through uniform standardization and therefore denies individuality and diversity.  Politically, technologies reinforce the economic and political dominance of the developed countries, especially the United States of America, on the global stage.

Any discussion of technophobia should include the subject of Luddism.  This is an oft-misunderstood term.  The term Luddite refers to the followers of Ned Ludd.  The Luddites were early 19th-century textile workers whose traditional way of living was being destroyed by the large-scale textile machine factories and they took to acts of destruction against those machines.  Eventually, they were suppressed by the government.  The Luddites were not necessarily against all technology.  Rather, they were plain folks who were reacting to the economic devastation in the form of reduced wages and unemployment brought about by the fast labor-saving textile machinery.  Unfortunately, the term Luddite has currently degenerated into "a word typically used to deride someone who believes technology has brought evil into Eden.  Luddites distrust the innovations of the modern world. They object to what they see as hubris of science, the attempt to control and manipulate the natural world to make it serve man more efficiently" (David Wright).  In other words, these days a Luddite  is (unfairly so) an automatic gainsayer against the march of technology.

We will now cite some survey data from the TGI Brazil study.  This is a survey of 5,312 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old who were interviewed in Brazil during the first half of 2002.  During the survey process, they were shown the statement: "Computers confuse me --- I'll never get used to them."  Of the survey respondents, 11.8% of them 'completely agreed' with the statement.  This attitudinal statement is not totally about techno phobia in the sense of the Nudism, but it does convey anxiety and alienation over computer technology.

In the next table, we show the agree rates by age/sex groups.  The most readily discernible trend is that older people are most likely to agree with the statement.  All the reasons that we previously enumerated are applicable here.  A less prominent feature is that there is a slight bump in the 20-to-24-year-old groups.  There are the people who have just entered the labor force, and now facing the fact that computer savviness is becoming critical to successful careers.   

In the next chart, we show the agree rates by socio-economic level, education and occupation.  The agree rates are lower amongst the affluent, the better educated and the professional/management classes.  

Not surprisingly, access to computer technology is unequally distributed between the haves and the have-nots.  Before anything else, there is the important matter of access.  In the case of computer technology, access is governed by telecommunications infrastructure, affordable hardware and software.  If access is strictly left to individual initiatives, then a large portion of the population will be excluded.  It remains then for public policy to provide for universal access.

Beyond technological hardware/software, another barrier to universal access is the social infrastructure.  As the data here showed, there are population segments who are anxious and alienated over computer technology.  Even if computers are made available to them, they may not use them.  A social infrastructure has to be in place, in the form of good educational institutions and personnel who can show how computer technology enables learning, confidence building and self-empowerment.  At the present, these needs are not met among the neediest population segments. 

(posted by Roland Soong, 12/19/2002)

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