Technophobia: Internet Anxiety
by Dr. Sharon Short
I belong to the last generation of people who are amazed by what can be accomplished online. I have located out-of-print books, purchased shoes in hard-to-find sizes, found cheap airfares, downloaded articles from obscure journals, conversed with people on other continents, participated in classes, searched for jobs, reconnected with old friends, edited dissertations, and completed a host of other tasks—all using this astonishing resource called the internet.
On the other hand, because for most of my life this powerful tool did not exist, I am also part of a generation who suffers from technophobia. Our generation is quite anxious about the implications of using the world-wide web. The very same technology that enables me to find out so much from around the world also allows anyone in the world to find out a great deal about me. It makes me nervous to realize that the products I buy, the websites I peruse, even the Facebook messages that I post, are all noticed, recorded, and used to market new products and services to me. Not only that, but the information that this vast, complex system called the internet accumulates about me never goes away—it is always immediately accessible to anyone who knows how to look for it.
Having experienced the incredible advantages of the internet, however, I do not expect that I will ever go back to living without it. In fact, I am so excited about its educational potential that I am building a career as an online instructor. I have made peace with my “internet anxiety” by accepting one simple reality, namely, that the internet is a completely public venue. It feels deceptively private and anonymous, but as long as I recognize that nothing—absolutely nothing—that I do by means of the internet can be kept hidden, it will probably not hurt me. My solution is to transmit online only the same sort of information that I would be willing to see printed in a magazine, mentioned in a newspaper, reported on a television show, or announced on a marquee. These examples are public media with which we have all grown up, and we have a clear sense of what would be wise and appropriate to publicize in these sorts of ways. The relative newness of the internet, combined with its illusion of secrecy, tempts people to relay information about themselves and say things about others that they would never consider publicizing through more traditional channels, and therein lies the danger. Recognizing that the internet is as communal as a billboard but much more widely accessible frees me to use it prudently as the worldwide public information forum that it actually is.