When People Feared Computers


In the early 1980s, the age of the personal computer had arrived and "computerphobia" was suddenly everywhere. Sufferers experienced "a range of resistances, fears, anxieties, and hostilities," according to the 1996 book Women and Computers. "These can take such forms as fear of physically touching the computer or of damaging it and what's inside it, a reluctance to read or talk about computers, feeling threatened by those who do know something about them, feeling that you can be replaced by a machine, become a slave to it, or feeling aggressive towards computers."

Humans often converge around massive technological shifts—around any change, really—with a flurry of anxieties. In the early days of the telephone, people wondered if the machines might be used to communicate with the dead. Today, it is the smartphone that has people jittery. (Are iPhones making us stupid? Lazy? Narcissistic? Anti-social?)

Three decades ago, "Computerphobia" came up in magazines, newspapers, computer training manuals, psychology studies, and advertising copy. "Who knows, maybe even the most dedicated computerphobes in your company will warm up to the PC after this," copywriters offered in a 1986 ad for IBM's Gem software—an interface designed for those who might be intimidated by the more complicated command-driven DOS operating system.

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