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Monday, December 28, 2009

Open Letter to the Tech-Shy

Many people are scared of technology or fear there's nothing in it for them. If that sounds like you, consider this.

Finding value in new technology is always a matter of trying it. Unless you have the curiosity—and courage—to start playing with it, the value won’t be obvious.

That’s certainly the case with social media and the digital devices that feed them. But with a little pluck and experimentation, you can turn “why would I ever want to do that?” into “you know, I could really use this.”

Three tech blasts from the past illustrate this beautifully. All are commonplace now, but they all came with concerns when they were launched. If you're old enough, perhaps you had the same fears I did.

Debit Cards
Before debit cards (or bank cards as some people call them) were rolled out, many folks, including me, were uncomfortable. "You mean to tell me, I'll swipe my card at the cashier and that money will be instantly ripped out of my account? What happens if I make a mistake and want a refund or exchange? I already have cash, cheques and credit cards. Why would I ever need a debit card?"

Well, I certainly got over my fears. And you've got a debit card in your pocket or purse right now. In fact, if you're a Canadian like me, you're among the highest per capita users of debit cards in the world.

Microwave Ovens
At the age of 14, I witnessed a miracle on a Grade 8 train trip to Ottawa. In the dining car, I ordered a small can of chicken a la king. The middle-aged cook behind the counter dumped the contents into a bowl and popped them into a new type of oven. A minute later he handed me a hot snack. Now, get this, after watching my job drop, he delivered the punch line, "that oven didn't even heat up."

Microwave ovens were only available commercially then. But before they made their way into homes, people were a bit uneasy. "Hold on, you’re going to pass microwaves through my food? Is that even healthy?"

Most of us got used to cooking our food by jostling the molecules with microwaves. Even the $45 machines are perfectly safe. We may not be thrilled with eating microwave fare, but the idea that we'd avoid cooking our food that way because of the process itself would seem silly.

Do you remember when email was introduced? In many workplaces, people were intrigued by the possibilities. But many were nervous. "What if I send something confidential to the wrong person? What if I hit reply all instead of reply? They say copies of my email will reside on a bunch of servers before it even gets to its destination. What if they all read my stuff?"

Well, we no longer pore over articles like 12 Email Safety Tips and Test Your Email Intelligence. Yes, we've made our share of blunders along the way, but we've lived through those and all made our peace with email.

So, as much of a technophobe as you think you are, imagine yourself at a social event exchanging some witty repartee with someone over appetizers. Your new acquaintance says quite proudly, "I’ve never used a microwave oven (or email or a debit card) in my life and have no use for it."

You'd respond politely perhaps, but what would instantly run through your mind? It might be, "how quaint, but wildly out of touch" or maybe even, "goodness, how did you make it into the 21st Century?"

Embrace Value, Discard the Rest
It's obvious the benefits of those technologies far outweighed the initial concerns. Many people are finding the same holds true for social media. There are tremendous benefits they can bring to your professional and personal life. But only if you're willing to push past the fear and invest some time in them.

We limit ourselves as individuals if we don’t adopt those technologies that help us—even if we’re scared of them at first. I'm not suggesting you embrace any and every new technology, medium or tool for its own sake. Only that you select a few to start, discover which ones bring value, even joy, to your life, and discard the rest.

Ten years from now, do you really want to be the person at the party who says: "You know, I've never joined a social network for my profession, or uploaded my vacation pics to a photo sharing service, or shared my favourite sites on a social bookmarking service. I'm still too scared of all that high-tech stuff."

Make the effort. Get started in this new year. You'll find so many people willing to help. I promise you it will pay off both professionally and personally.

Raman Job


  1. Ray, this is a great post! I'm so glad you've added your voice to blogosphere. I really enjoy your writing and you articulate your ideas so well with pertinent and pithy examples. I've also noticed, late as I am to the party here, that you've already got a readership across 5 continents. I had a feeling it wouldn't take long. ;-)

  2. Hey, I owe it to you Darren. I was thinking of your "innumerate person at the party" anecdote as I was bringing this one home. Thank you so much for the challenge to start blogging. You're a great mentor to so many.