What Makes Technology So Challenging?

In my experience training people on how to use their technology, I have noticed a recurring pattern. No matter how accomplished or experienced they are, at some level they are intimidated and made to feel incapable in the face of their tech. This puzzled me at first. How can such accomplished and successful people feel so out of sorts around their digital tools? Some even go so far as to try to give them up altogether. What were they finding so difficult?

Whenever we start learning something new, we are complete novices. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We are essentially helpless. For anyone who prides themselves on their successes and knowledge, this is a very challenging feeling to live with. And with technology, there is so much to learn, right? But what if there wasn’t so much to learn?

We often learn best through metaphor and stories. Let me share one with you. When I learned to drive a car, I learned on my family car. I don’t recall what make it was, but let’s just say it was a Ford. At first I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and everyone in my family was afraid to ride with me. Slowly, I got better and more confident until others felt safe whenever I was driving. This felt good. But then I had to drive another make – my grandmother’s Mercedes. While I was nervous about driving her really nice car, I wasn’t nervous that I would know how to drive it even though it was a brand new and different car to me. Why? Because all cars (in the US) work the same. The steering wheel is on the left. The gas pedal is on the right, the brake on the left. The gear shift is generally on the floor to the right of the driver. Sure, how you turn the headlights on and adjust the temperature of the inside of the car are different but the essentials for actually driving the car are the same.

Now, the same is true of any software you use. In fact, I would go so far as to say that once you learn how to use one program, you are about 70% of the way to learning how to use any other. Just like the car, most of what you know in one program works the same way in all the others. Sure the settings might be in a different place, but how you open the program, close the program, and use the menus are the same for all.

The source of much anxiety in learning to use software, then, is feeling overwhelmed by how much there seems to be learn. But with this idea, you can see that there isn’t quite so much as at first seems. In fact, if you can browse the web to read this post, then you are most of the way to knowing how to use any program on your smartphone or computer. Now you just need to learn to play with it!

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