Computer and the Internet have become part of life. Any one can foresee that. But users are sometime still intimidated by the sophisticated gadgets and openness of the Internet, hence they are not using them optimally.
It is the same all over the world when it comes to the scare of using computers and the Internet. One BBC report and another research study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute imply that users are scared of using computers and working on the Internet. Another Australian study also found that many people are afraid of their own computers.
Discussions with experts and analysts substantiate the findings about the scare. “Unfortunately, from what I have observed, many people still are afraid of computers. The fear takes two separate forms, both of which come from a limited understanding of how computers work. The first was typified by a film 2001 A Space Odyssey: a fear that the computer is a thinking being with a will of its own, possibly a malevolent one. The second fear is that because computers are so powerful, and we’ve come to entrust them with so much of our work and lives, a mistake could prove very costly. And indeed, I’m sure every one knows at least one person who’s had a very costly mistake happen with a computer — a hard drive wiped out by a virus, an important file deleted, etc. So this fear is at least somewhat realistic,” emailed Menda Zaltin. “People always fear what they don’t understand, and technology is moving and growing so rapidly these days understanding it is just about impossible. I do think this applies more to computers than other gadgets because computers are so powerful and seem much more mysterious,” she added.
Another American techie Patricia A. Furgeson, who teaches people to use computers and help them with their problems in Walton – a small town in rural America, on the basis of her life long work observations responded, “The reason people are scared of computers is not hard to understand. Most of the people who are leery to get into the computing lack knowledge, or have false knowledge. A lot is sung about computers viruses and identity theft etc but the media does not spread major advantages of computer usage. The middle age and older crowd who did not grow up using computers and feel using a typewriter is good enough for them are most computers averse. The older generations resist against any new technology. They are used to the old way and don’t have an interest, and are intimidated by the new way. Many of my senior customers are afraid of doing something wrong and destroying expensive technology.”
In response to a query, Tatiana Andronache, Canadian IT analyst e-mailed, “I am not sure whether it is fear or a slew of negative emotions some people experience when confronted with technology that is new to them: fear of change, conservatism (“I do not really need this”), fear of failing (people prefer things they know how to use, don’t like to feel incompetent). Education could probably alleviate some of this. Some people come to dislike computers because they are still complicated to use and are overloaded with features. People sometimes need to perform simple things fast, they hate having to sift through endless help screens or thick manuals to find how to do what they want. What’s most frustrating, some users do not even know the technical word that describes what they want to accomplish – and this renders the said manuals and “help” useless.”
What computer gadgets are in use locally? Average individual users (at home and or in office) have computers with other standard accessories (keyboard, mouse and speakers). A few also have printers (inkjet, laser or dot matrices), scanners, Web cams, mikes, TV tuners, CD writers and fewer still own laptops and PDAs. There are high users who have changed their workstations into multimedia techno bastions and are seen having “gizmo nirvana.”
As reported in Dawn Sciencedotcom, “the local (consumer-oriented computer market of 300,000 to 350,000 computers a year) is divided into 15 to 20 per cent foreign brands and the rest comprises local computers. Of this, the local branded computers enjoy a very small market, minute at best. Rest are having locally integrated computers – taking a bunch of components and putting them together.”
Pakistanis are decidedly pro computers and pro Internet. They are innovative. Like elsewhere different degrees of gimmick inhibitions are also common among them save perhaps those who have been using computers since they were born or those who are working with them since computers were born. The inhibitions come from ways in which humans interact with machines and their attitudes towards them. Not only there are hang-ups about hardware and software but users are also petrified of this: damaging the machine, lose of data, viruses, openness of the Internet and resulting anonymity, changing identities and identity thefts, pornography and other undesired contents found online, unfounded myths and computer lingoes. But the growing computer penetration indicates that more and more people are using the modern day facilities, negative apprehension notwithstanding. “Skills are improving and requirements are growing and sometime impulses rule,” says university teacher Asghar Javed.
PTV serial Nagri Nagri Ghom Musafar fame author of “Prisoner on the Bus” Salman Rashid “uses computer only as a fancy typewriter and needs the Internet to save the trip to the library for the encyclopaedia or to check the weather in Hunza sometimes (and to send his work to publications and be in touch with friends and fellow travellers all over the world).” He says, “When I began first back in 1991 I was terrified all the time I’d press the wrong key and lose all my data. Computers, you know, are a little like horse. They know when a novice is riding them and they throw the inexperienced rider off and also kick him/her. I still remember the time I spent six hour on my first computer on the first day. Carefully saved my work as I had been told and the next morning, presto! It was not there. That computer knew I was a novice. I heard it snickering. Now when I know, which key to press and when, these machines keep asking me strange questions from time to time – questions that I cannot even understand. I ignore these questions. I don’t want to get drawn into hi-tech mess.” Shabnam Rashid who uses the Internet for research work added, “Dependency of its sort and resulting reduction in reading habits are main fears of any society where the Internet is a common place.”
Computers apparently have changed a lot for those who work with words and have also replaced account books of many. Interestingly, most users (including some computerised banks and small businesses) are still using old style book keeping in addition to computers for the fear of loosing data. Many users have experienced data lose of some kind mainly due to own fault, computer crashes or viruses etc. Aamer Waqas, a journalist tells, “I did learn my lesson the hard way. I had translated a book saving the work on my system. I posted the draft to one of my e-mall accounts for safe keeping after it was complete. I kept working on translation and the script kept changing but I did not mail the updates. My labour was gone when my hard disc crashed. I opened the mail but what I found was only initial draft. I had to work all over again. Another thing even more frustrating is losing my settings – customised with the help of techie friends over time. With new disk it was as if working on someone else’s computer. There was nothing familiar there. Though data remains in tact but all settings vanish when the disk is formatted and Windows reloaded.”
Not every thing that goes wrong with the systems is attributed to viruses by some; it may be an unplugged wire. A good natured friend of mine, a happy surfer, is really scared of viruses. He always mails me passing on ‘virus alerts’ that he thinks I should know about. Initially I paid attention to his mails but soon realized that he keeps forwarding me emails that happen to be flying around in local circles in the form of chain letters without a second though what to talk of verifying them from any source.
One of the valid fears of the parents is children exposure to porno and other unsavoury material online. “This subject is not talked about or discussed. One of the many reasons given is that even those who do not know of this damaging aspect will learn about it through popular parley. This amounts to hiding the head in the sand and is only aggravating the situation. Parents who cannot ensure safer surfing tend to restrict the use, which in any way is not a sustainable solution,” says sociologist Dr. Muhammad Anwar. Given the will and need, there are sure ways of safer surfing. “Scare of railway steam engine when was invented, scare of motor when it first came on the roads, or scare of flying does not stop people using those vital services. Why inanimate machines or any thing on the Internet should scare the users,” he asks.
Myths and misconceived facts that spread particularly fast among the users fraternity fan the flames of existing fears. Every one takes upon himself to pass around such myths, aggravating non-issues in the process. Ironically, such myths get started in developed cyber societies of the world. Whimsical hypotheses like “girls find IT as boring and for nerds,” computers emit electromagnetic waves, someone is monitoring every mail that is sent on the Internet and other similar stories are unsubstantiated but they do increase anxiety or at least obfuscate the users.
Ask those who started working on DOS what they though when Word Star and later Window appeared first. They can imagine how much improvements have taken place on software interface and computers’ designs since 1990s. Hardware architects and software developers are working to make computers and users friendly and efficient. Imperfections are continuously being remedied. They are much simpler to learn now.
Learning is the key to surmounting any fear, breaking myths and using computers and the Internet confidently. Anyone can understand and use them with confident by putting mind to it. Patricia A. Furgeson believes, “The education would help users feel more comfortable with using computers and other high tech equipment and machines. Also there is a need to provide more education by the media to help those that are wary.” (This article appeared in Dawn)