Chapter 20: Technophobia And Technoscepticism

Chapter objectives

In this chapter we shall:

  • Explain the difference between fear (technophobia) and loathing (technoscepticism) of  IT.
  • Help you to accept that some technophobia and technoscepticism is probably beneficial.
  • Suggest some ways to avoid or at least minimise the potentially harmful effects of fear and loathing in its more extreme forms.

Fear and loathing of IT

There are two main terms for “fear and loathing” in the IT field:

  • technophobia: in its milder form this is an apprehension of new technologies (e.g. new machines and programs), in its extreme form it is a fear of all technology.
  • technoscepticism: in its milder form this is a belief that a particular technology might not necessarily be good for you, in its extreme form it is an opposition to all technology.

Technophobia and technoscepticism have been around at least as long as the automated looms of the early 19th century (when, for example, Monsieur Jacquard of Jacquard loom fame was run out of town by angry villagers and Ned Ludd of “luddite” fame instigated similar riots in this country).  In those cases, as often today, the fear and loathing stemmed mainly from fear of unemployment. 

It is worth noting that history suggests that technology leads to more jobs, not fewer.  (For example, the feared advances in the textile industry nearly doubled the number of people employed in that industry during the first half of the 19th century).  The jobs do often change, but they usually tend to change into better jobs.  When your staff’s jobs are not at risk from an IT project, it is often a good idea to say so up front to allay fears.  When some jobs are at risk, it is still a good idea to allay fears by being straightforward.  Where significant retraining is likely to be needed, if you have any sense you will provide such training.  Again it makes sense to discuss these issues at an early stage. 

Sometimes, of course, some specific jobs will be at risk as a result of an IT project – this will require sensitive and sensible handling in much the same way as job changes that result from any other form of change. 

Healthy fear and loathing

Even the most IT literate of us can feel some apprehension when first starting with a new computer, device or software program.  Indeed, it is probably rational to feel such apprehension as it is at the “brand new” stage that machines and programs are most likely not to work.  We suggest that not-for-profit organisations should seek to minimise pioneering risks by actively avoiding the use of leading edge devices and/or bespoke software wherever possible.  In this way, you are probably only going to tread reasonably “well-ploughed furrows” in your use of IT.  That doesn’t stop things from going wrong, but if your IT project is well planned you should not come across insurmountable problems, only interesting challenges along the way. 

If you are one of the (small minority) of people who is genuinely fearful of technology, the only options open to you are to avoid all use of IT (not recommended) or to confront your fears by embracing IT (recommended).  Many people find the best way to overcome the fear and embrace IT is to use a computer at home for non-work activities at first.  The fast expansion of the Internet through the World Wide Web makes IT a medium almost everyone can use for some aspects of their personal interests.   

We believe that mild technoscepticism is healthy because many IT projects fail due to inappropriate and overly elaborate use of technology.  At the planning stage, we actively encourage not-for-profit organisations to consider some sceptical questions, such as “could we get 80% of the benefits we seek for 20% of the cost?”.  Many not-for-profit organisations have saved a great deal of money by challenging their own proposals in this sort of way.  

Mini Example Big Gun Versus New Kid on the Block

One recent pertinent example in our experience occurred during a system selection meeting for a clinical trials system for a large medical research charity.  The choice seemed stark.  There was the "all-singing, all-dancing" solution from a well-known and long-established software house specialising in the clinical trials field, "big gun".  Alternatively, there was the tidy looking but scaled down solution from a "new kid on the block" with only a handful of references but a price tag around 20% to 25% of the "big gun's" quote.  Truly there was no easy answer in this selection and the discussions were many and varied.

As high noon approached, the discussions started to hinge on the functionality provided, with advocates of the "big gun" pointing out fancy features lacking in the "new kid on the block's" offering.  Detractors pointed out that some of those fancy features were not even in the specification we had drawn up, and the missing features which were in the specification were mostly wants more than needs. 

Eventually, the Director of the group, a self-confessed technosceptic who had been silent throughout the debate so far asked one brief question.  "How many of you use more than two settings on your domestic washing machines?"  No hands.  "Do you really think you would use all those extra features in "big gun's" system?" 

"New kid on the block" won the day.  It was almost certainly the right choice for that organisation.

Avoiding the worst side effects of fear and loathing

We believe that communication while seeking contribution, consensus and commitment (see The Four C's above) is beneficial to any IT project and advocate that charities should ensure that nervous and sceptical voices are actively included in such a process. 

Try to help people who are openly nervous or worried about proposed changes by providing them with information and informal training / learning opportunities early on in the process.  Encourage people to be open about their worries and concerns and try to address those issues during the planning stage, so those people can see that these matters are being taken into account.

It might not be possible to win round the most ardently sceptical people, but their criticisms will probably help you to improve the quality of your IT projects by thinking through their objections.


  • Some fear (technophobia) and loathing (technoscepticism) can be beneficial to IT projects.
  • Try to minimise the unpleasant side effects of fear and loathing through allowing open and honest expression of concerns from an early stage of IT projects.
  • Help people to overcome fear arising from the unknown by finding informal ways for them to learn about IT, such as using the world-wide-web.
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