What Makes You Anxious & Fearful About Tech?

Twilight Zone creature on plane

Today I’m looking for your insight on a phenomenon I see a lot with people over a certain age: fearfulness and anxiety around tech.

Those of you who’ve followed my posts for a while know how much I promote the use of new media in a writing career. I think it can make it more powerful, enjoyable, and sustainable.

But when I travel to conferences, or speak conversationally with friends (about their older parents), it’s clear that there’s a significant cross-section of the population who just aren’t comfortable with tech. (And then there’s another section of people who are kinda comfortable, but don’t want to push the boundaries.)

I don’t quite understand it—where does this fearfulness or tentativeness come from? Why is there anxiety about “breaking” the computer? Where does the resistance originate?

Since I don’t really know, I’d love to collect your thoughts. What do you think?

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Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
Posted in Digital Media.


  1. It’s the whole idea of ‘change’ for the older people. Humans like what they know, and change usually means something they DON’T know, which means they don’t like it, and they fear it. Well that’s my explanation for it anyway. 

    •  I’m not sure it’s as simple as all older people just inherently disliking change — I think as you get older, your experience and acquired knowledge begin to outpace your desire to continue to adapt and challenge your assumptions. It’s still doable, it just takes more effort.

      I also think there’s an issue of priorities, where the appeal of learning technology is dependent on whether or not it actually has any perceived utility.

      The pace at which technology changes and accelerates has also been rising sharply for decades. I imagine that when I’m 60, I might grow weary of constantly trying to master the latest new technology that will be forgotten and looked on with scorn within a year.

      • Daniel, I’m 58, and I do sometimes wonder if I’ll have the energy (i.e. the capacity to give a sh*t) to get excited about the new, new, new, new, new Facebook in 10 years. I mean, after a while you start to notice that many applications duplicate each other, and if you go to the trouble to cultivate a community, and relevance, on one app, but then another bright shiny app comes along that does the same thing only better… what happens to all your work/ friends/history?

        I felt this way when a friend was trying to get me to get excited about Google+. I love everything G, but have built communities elsewhere. And I don’t want to wear down my friends by having them see my stuff duplicated everywhere. After a while you do have to be strategic with your time.

        But this was about age, wasn’t it? You are right. I agree it’s irrelevant! As an example, please see my earlier comment re teaching enthusiastic women who are age 50-80+.

        I once helped an 86-year old man open a WordPress.com blog. Over the phone.

  2. Change is something people fear, and i suppose admitting that the world is moving on proves just how old you are getting. People, in general, don’t like the idea of this.

    We want to be remembered in our prime, and the fear (another big factor) of not understanding something makes it easier to avoid all together.

    I sometimes wonder what it will be like for me when i’m 60. Will i still be ‘with it’ or will i  be like my dad. A man who is still very stand offish with new media. I sometimes see him looking at the remote as though it was a book by Stephen Hawking

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  3. I’m fifty and an engineer. For me it’s not so much fear of technology as it is weariness of new technology. When I was a teenager the cool new technology was a handheld calculator and cable television with HBO. With every new piece that comes onto the marketplace, one has to learn how to use it. So there comes a point in time where one gets tired of learning how to use a new device which is obsolete as soon as you buy it. 

    The same is true of social media. I started with message boards on AOL, then message boards for specific groups. Then there was myspace followed by facebook, twitter, blogger. And now there is pinterest. In a year or so, it will be something else. With each new platform for connecting with people, one has to learn how to use it. I’m not afraid of it. I’m tired of figuring out how to navigate and use the hot new social media environment. 

    To point out how tired I am of having to figure out how to do something, I’m not sure I know how to post this. I’ve been commenting on blogs for over three years, but your commenting section is different from everyone else’s. So I have to figure out how to do it… 

  4. I used to work as a network tech and tutor at my university, where I dealt with an older crowd on a daily basis. From my observations, the technofear boiled down to this:

    To some, technology is magic. Things happen without rhyme or reason, cause and effect. People are afraid to experiment because they’re afraid they’ll break something. We used to spend hours trying to disavow people of this notion, but software bugs, malfunctions and viruses often made it look like we were lying and computers were a terrifying world where random stuff just happened.

    There was also a big problem with sloppy learning. People wouldn’t know the proper terminology for something, so they’d just make something up or transpose terms willy-nilly. “Server” became a synonym for any computer, the CPU case became the “hard drive,” the network became “outer space,” and so on. It seemed like a side effect of being dropped into an unfamiliar experience without any real context.

    Finally, I think there’s frequently a user-interface disconnect in the user experience that people born into technology generally don’t struggle with. User feedback from a device or piece of software that might seem clear to some is utterly alien to others.

    That’s my two cents anyway. Interesting topic!

    • Being one of the “older people” I have to disagree with most of what you said.  It’s not a lack of education.  I have an MFA.  I think of myself as fairly smart and I’m eager to learn social networking.  But it’s easy to fall into overwhelm.  Everything is moving so fast, and the older you get, the slower you move.  It’s a safety thing.  

      And it’s because we already carry so much experience and wisdom in our heads, it’s hard to pack in poorly presented instructions on each app and social page.  

      The biggest problem with younger people teaching teaching those of us with many more years is that they give us too much at once. Instead of doing it for us, with us watching from the sideline, give us the time to figure it out with gentle and supportive prompts.  One thing at a time…please?  

      And about being into technology at birth, that’s true of kids growing up with the iPad.  They learn it right along with language.  But my college age kids know a lot less about apps and social media than I do.  I have no idea why.  People are just different I guess.  

      The internet has a lot to offer, and people pick and chose what works for them.  Those of us that want to dive in need a safe pond so we don’t hit bottom, or get stuck in the muck.  

      If you want to hear more, check out my website: http://www.leafriverwriter.com   I’ve left a longer response there.

      • The people I tutored had MFAs too. Most of them were themselves teaching classes in technology (or trying to, anyway). They were fine, smart, brilliant people, they just weren’t comfortable with technology. It’s not a judgment on their character.

        And by “education” I mean education using the technology, not someone’s degree.

        I always tried to encourage people to learn for themselves, to experiment, to truly grasp and engage with the technology rather than learning by rote memorization. Some people had success with that. Some didn’t. As you say, people are different.

        • Wow, Dan, I wish you lived in my area. I’d take a class from you. I haven’t had much luck finding the help I need, but that’s probably due to living in a rural area where the important technology is making sure the bailer and harvestor are running.

          People who try to help are appreciated, but without the proper teaching skills, it can often end in more frustration and more time lost that could have been used for writing.

          Balance is the thing I struggle to maintain–between writing and social media, and between quiet time at home to work and leaving that quiet to rub elbows with real life people.

          The ultimate answer for most challenging times is patience. It’s hard to hold on to, but when I do, things eventually work out.

        • Wow, Dan, I wish you lived in my area. I’d take a class from you. I haven’t had much luck finding the help I need, but that’s probably due to living in a rural area where the important technology is making sure the bailer and harvestor are running.

          People who try to help are appreciated, but without the proper teaching skills, it can often end in more frustration and more time lost that could have been used for writing.

          Balance is the thing I struggle to maintain–between writing and social media, and between quiet time at home to work and leaving that quiet to rub elbows with real life people.

          The ultimate answer for most challenging times is patience. It’s hard to hold on to, but when I do, things eventually work out.

    •  When we talk about fear of “breaking” something, we need to look at what a newbie considers “broken.” “Broken,” to them means “The computer is in some state where I can’t use it to do what I want to do.” If they accidentally press F11 and all their toolbars are gone and they don’t know how to fix it, they will say it’s “broken.”

      So the fear of breaking the computer is really a fear of not being able to use the computer anymore.

      •  Right — or the loss of work (a big one in academic environments; every semester I’d talk to some grad student dissolved in tears because they neglected to save their term paper before Word crashed on them).

        Also, the teachers made heavy use of video presentations and the like, and there was a constant fear of some sort of malfunction in front of an audience, which is perfectly reasonable.

  5. Great question Jane!

    The fearfulness I have for tech comes from the rampant spying technologies used by various governments & corporations to track every single thing one does on the computer and online. I am a staunch advocate of my privacy & I don’t want that.

    Plus for ereaders I loathe DRM & until it is obsolete & I actually OWN the ebook I am buying instead of leasing the right to read it, I refuse to buy one and instead get pdf format if it is available. With Tor now DRM-free I see a time when I will be able to buy an ebook & actually own it & read it on any device I choose.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my views,
    RK Charron

  6. I’m in the cross-over generation. I’m old enough that I still learned to type on a typewriter but young enough that while I was doing that we also had a Commador 64 in the house to play Pong on. What I hear a lot of from people who are older than me is that they just don’t see the point in all the new technology. They got along for years without a cell phone, so while they can see the point in a basic phone for a flat tire, they can’t see the point in a smart phone that lets you listen to music, check your email, and take pictures. I’ve also heard people complain about the speed. They feel like they can’t keep up with the pace of things like Twitter. They also feel like they just manage to learn something new and all the rules change. It’s exhausting.

    Effort, ignorance, and fear of outcome. It takes effort to overcome my ignorance and I’m not sure I’ll succeed in the end (although I am trying; it just sucks when I fail to grasp something simple for others).

  8. Jane your adorable. Ummm. I’m computer saavy but not ‘processing’ saavy. I want to write. I’ve got a story but margins, spacing…ugh.

  9. I agree with Diana. People get tired of change and tired of finding out how to use new technology. When I see my parents they have given up on finding out anything new. But there are quite a few people who are only in their forties who feel technology like computers is only acceptable at work. For example, a friend of mine loves e-mails but she writes them at her office, not at home.

    • I do wonder if people in their 30s and 40s have so much on their plates with work and families etc. that tech is just another task, like doing the laundry. Time and energy aren’t limitless. What seems like a lack of interest might just be hitting the wall!

      • Possibly, and this could be the beginning of a cycle: you haven’ got the time to look at new technology, something newe comes out, you feel you have missed out before and need time to really get to know it (but you haven’t got time), and yet again something  new is on the market … and there is your fear!

  10. I’m 62 (and by the way, a graduate of your recent employer, University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music) and an admitted techno-phobe. Fears seem to thrive in the darkness, and I can’t fully explain this one. But I suppose it’s insecurity. Though I’ve used computers daily for over 25 years and have a relatively-successful web site (LNWhymns.com; over 2,000 unique visitors a week), I don’t really understand the technology and how it works. Thus I memorize procedures and mostly stay to familiar paths. When I get into unknown territory, I lean on my daughter, who is a programmer. I suppose it’s frustration I fear rather than breaking the computer.

  11. Speaking as a writer, independent, thank you very much, who welcomes the digital revolution with open arms, since it has allowed me to pursue my vocation instead of working in total obscurity, I can still relate to the tentativeness many people, especially writers, feel about the new social media. For one thing, writers don’t like to self-promote. That’s why they’re writers not salesmen/women. Am i right? The seond thing is the time factor needed to overcome the learning curve, and the fear at the back of many minds that this is just a passing fad. It is not. Ok? I’m on board. but I would still rather be writing and focusing on the real world, not the virtual world. Vive la difference.
    Anthony Caplan:
    Author, teacher, homesteader:

    • thanks Anthony!!! Too true that a writer abhors self-promotion. Actually I take that back – perhaps some writers are good at self-promotion; I for one am not!

  12. As you get older, you are supposed to get wiser. I didn’t grow up in the techie world. Data processing was just coming out in schools with the punch cards, and the electric typerwriter was king. So to teach an old dog like me, a new trick, and to be taught by kids you used to babysit, it is intimidating.
    I have been pushed into the social media arena now at age 51, kicking and screaming. I still feel a little awkward, and don’t like to make mistakes. I am finally getting the hang of it, even though my two kids that I see in the reflection of the computer, are laughing behind my back.

    •  Great point Karen! It can be very awkward to be taught by someone younger than yourself. Especially when all your life it’s normally been an older person teaching you at school, college, job.

  13. Jane, I’m a huge fan and hope we can connect sometime now that you’re moving to the East Coast. I’m a rare baby boomer who has been immersed in all things tech and Web for 20 years. So I often have the same question you do about “older” people not being comfortable with social media or computers. I think there is a generalized fear of “making a mistake.” Of course, that mindset (leaning back instead of forward) hampers the embrace of all the online tools and services that can help authors write, package and promote their books and eBooks – particularly via self-publishing.

  14. I’m 51 and a Career Coach.  If it weren’t for my passion for helping others navigate career transition, I probably wouldn’t have had the kick-in-the-pants to embrace technology.  Now that I’m in, I do get excited over how easy it can be to bring people and thoughts together.

    The downside for me?  The vast amount of information out there is overwhelming.  So it feels like a huge time vortex, sorting through all of the haystack before finding the pearl.

    The downside for some of my clients?  Other “older” folks are concerned about privacy.  That seems to be the most voiced hurdle in our discussions.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  15. I am one of those “older” people (age 57) and I do not fear so much as
    have anxiety about technology.
    I cannot intuitively “fix” tech problems such as when my TV stops working or gives me the dreaded blue screen, or when my surround sound dvd system won’t respond or even eject the dvd, or when my printer refuses to work. Electronics in general and computer issues seem to eat up more hours of my time in trouble-shooting than they are worth. When my smart phone is working well I love it, but when it doesn’t I don’t know how to fix it. Lack of understanding and tech savvy is much of my generation’s
    That said, I depend on the internet for so much information, and it is the internet that led me to your blog. I find myself irritated when a vendor doesn’t have a useful website, or doesn’t even have one. I have a love/hate relationship with tech.
    I do though find many blogs that I read to be incredibly self-absorbed and do not understand the current obsession or belief that everything one has to say or opine on is of great interest to the world at large. I am a more private person with my thoughts and activities, and I suspect many of my generation feel the same – we hesitate to broadcast to the world at large.
    Tech is here to stay though and the fact that I seek out information to help me write, to inform me, to make me better at work, and in other pursuits and interests just proves the point.
    Plus, I like your blog! (But then, I have no clue how one even goes about creating a blog!)

  16. I’m starting to wonder if there ought to be some kind of “problem solving” classes geared toward tech. Once you have an understanding of the reasons things stop working, and you know what questions to ask, it becomes more manageable, if only because you understand when to call a professional and also when it’s not your fault that something isn’t working (programmer’s error!).

    I was married for a while to a PhD in computer science, and watching him problem solve was immensely insightful. Such people don’t always know why things go wrong either, but they just start asking questions and testing hypotheses.

    • Recently I was teaching a “start your own blog” class, and a discussion about social media took off. We all agreed it would be really fun and helpful to get together periodically to exchange thoughts, tips, and strategies about social media for fun and profit (we’re all independent businesswomen). Not like any of us have time, but that would be a really enjoyable problem-solving venue.

    • There was a book I read and loved when much younger may have dealt exactly with this. 

      Worth a read, and you probably have read it. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 

      After trying to define “quality”- rather hard to do, but you know it’s there because if you take “quality” out of everything, you have sameness-  the author then rambles on interestingly on his Chautauquas, attempting to determine why some people- like your PhD ex- are able to deal wonderfully with tech and other people just don’t get it. 

      If you remember the book, the narrator is on a motorcycle trip with his son, and on a separate bike, a BMW, if I remember right, are this drummer and his wife.

      There’s an episode where the narrator  does a repair and notes the BMW needs a shim. He finishes a beer and cuts away a portion of that metal, thinking it perfect- light and non-oxidizing. The BMW owner is aghast- you’re going to put a beer can metal on my bike? The narrator thinks it over and determines if he told the fellow the shim came from a high-end special German shim factory that would have been acceptable.

      I suppose one lesson of resistance is iit is not just what makes tech work, it is also tech as image. 

      But I’m not there yet. Give me a minute more. 

      So the bikes climb in the mountains, the narrator adjusts his carburetor to run richer- or perhaps its leaner, I can’t recall- but the owner of the other bike is frustrated when his bike doesn’t start as quick as it had.

      The narrator thinks this over, too, and comes up with an overview of two points of view: Classical knowledge (tinkerer) and Romantic Knowledge (this feels so right, man). The other fellow is a drummer. His job is to listen and act when the music and rhythm feels right. That shim didn’t feel right. His thinking of details, like carburetor jets, so his bike operates well in the mountains is not his nature. The BMW drummer fellow is instead, frustrated, upset,  when his tech fails- his bike- even when preventable. I would submit that is the reaction of a lot of people when they are dealing with tech issues that require a bit of thinking and tinkering.

      But it isn’t their fault. It is a matter of nature.

      There is a bit of intuition that your PhD ex would have had others do not have. It is not enough to ask questions. You have to have some baseline to work with to launch your questions from. If you don’t have that, you are lost. If you don’t have that, guidance is needed. (eg: “Okay, if you take that off, what do you need to replace it with?”)

      So I would submit that a solution to your problem, as I understand it, would be two-fold. One, to recognize that regardless of age, some people are Romantic Knowledge thinkers. They do not have the intuition that finds that stud behind the drywall or to know by instinct that if you remove that bolt you it will not only not solve your problem, you will never get it back on unless you loosen 97 others in the correct order.

      There is a part of the book where the narrator remembers dealing with some problem and another fellow is frustrated that he didn’t see it. Fellow B asks how he knew.

      “It’s obvious,” the author said.

      But with some brief questioning fellow B determines that there are no signs that would tell anyone how to fix the problem.

      In frustration he asks, “Well, its not obvious, then, is it?”

        • No problem. Dealing with new tech may not be just an international issue, it may even be interplanetary, a la Margaret Atwood, at her analogy-writting best. I don’t know if you’re a New Yorker, but if you are, you’ve probably read this recent ditty, too, as Martians discover America, through Canada (hint: beware ray-gunned marshmallows): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/hello-martians-this-is-america.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp       

  17. I’m a freelance writer and (ARGH!) 60. When I worked as an editor at a publishing house, I experienced the transition from electric typewriters to PCs. I’ve always known that if I want to stay competitive in this business I have to keep up with technology. I am constantly telling friends in my age range that the world is moving beyond print and if they don’t keep up they will feel even more confused by technology in 5, 10, 15 . . .years. 

    I’ll be retweeting your post and sharing it on my Facebook pages.

  18. Glad to see this post, Jane. I’ll be passing it on to my writers’ group as soon as I’m done with this comment since many of them fit the category you’re asking about. A few thoughts:

    First, I have friends, a couple in their mid-80s, who have–and use–all the latest tech gadgets. They don’t have much of a social media presence but with the hardware, they’ve taken the approach that learning how to use them is an adventure. They’ve made it fun and that makes them unusual compared to the vast majority of their peers.

    Second, while I don’t consider myself “older” (OK, I’m 56–dang! When did THAT happen???) but I’m experiencing that tech-related inertia for the first time regarding social media. But I’ve been using PCs since the mid-1980s. I really have no excuse for resisting, so I’m working my way in and figuring that stuff out. That, though, makes ME somewhat unusual compared to my peers.

    Third, you wrote a while back that it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. Is that ever true! And for “older” folks, your other commenters’ posts about strange terminology, mysterious equipment, and continual and rapid change are absolutely on target. They make catching up and absolute bear, and just as terrifying as a momma grizzly protecting her cubs.

    While I can understand your interest in classes about technology, doing them USING technology will feel like a Catch-22 for potential students: in order to “go there” (learn how to use tech), they have to already “be there” (know how to use tech). It seems to me any such classes are likely to work best when they’re in-person events, like the “for seniors” classes that many community colleges offer. That said, doing the research to find out what’s keeping “seniors” away from tech is a great idea and much needed.

  19. Great question Jane. I think the comments shed a lot of light on the subject. I have friends in their 50s who have never touched a computer, but are in love with their cell phones. But I have an octogenarian mom who is comfortable with computer technology but has hit a wall with Office 2010. I just spent a morning trying to explain to her why some of her friends can’t open a .docx.  

    I myself have had to drop out of two joint blogs because the level of imaging tech and knowledge of HTML was above the capabilities of both my software and my brain. I see these major problems with tech and Boomers. 1) Invasion of privacy. It’s real and it’s a biggie. 2) Big brothery attitude of stuff like autocorrect : “We know what you want better than you do, you ignorant worm”  3) Counter-intuitive (for us) ways of approaching problems. 4)  Traditionally, elders have been able to feel competent about things. Suddenly we’re incompetent at everything. It makes us feel useless and sad. 5) Time suck.

  20. Jane, I love this conversation.  It’s part of the reason I love technology.  I’ve been really struggling with getting up to speed on social media since we talked at AWP, but I wonder if I’ve made much progress?  Maybe a little.  I just hope the learning curve levels out soon.  I’m running out of storage space in my head.  

    I answered your post more on my website: http://www.leafriverwriter.com.  I hope to bring in all the non-writers I know in my farming community into the conversation.

  21. One of the reasons I think people are so scared of “breaking” a computer is that they have a poverty mindset. Growing up and seeing other items break due to poor quality, they’re sure that these new pieces of technology are going to do the same.

  22. I once heard that it’s not so much learning a new technology for older folks, but reorienting yourself from a world of three dimensions (buttons, dials, etc.) to a world of two dimensions (tapping “buttons” on a screen).  Then again, I think it’s all in the way you’re wired (no pun intended).  I know older people with smartphones and emails address, and younger people without smartphones and FB pages and the like.  I would ask, too, to explain a bit about what you mean when you say “fear.”  I think there’s a huge difference between not using technology because you don’t want to learn, and not using because you’ve evaluated it and decided that you choose not to use it (many people in relation to ereaders).

    • I suppose I’m using the word “fear” quite generally to describe how some people respond when I suggest they try new tech in their lives—e.g., a new device, program, or website. 

      They express something such as, “Oh, I don’t think I could do that, it’s too advanced for me.” Or, “What if I get hacked / get a virus / break my computer.”

      So, I think I’m speaking about people who are reluctant to try or learn.

      • Got it.  Like when I say to my mom, “Just click around on the buttons, it’s Ok!  You’re not going to crash or explode anything!”  I don’t really have any explanation for that except a lack of an adventurous spirit…?

  23. There may be a number of factors–fear of change, lack of knowledge about how to make them work, and in some cases, simple techno overload. Think back to the 50s–when I was born. My grandmother was still using an ice box. She didn’t live in a rural area–she lived 15 miles from NYC, but she had an ice box. TV was relatively new, radio was what she listened to. TV and radio sign-offs were 10 or 11 o’clock at night and nothing was broadcast until 6 o’clock the next morning. Most people were on a party line if they had a phone at all. Computers were housed in huge warehouses, not worn on wrists.

    Fast forward about 20 years. Ok, now everyone has a refrigerator, a phone, a TV, radio is phasing out, but you still only have a handful a TV channels to watch and sign-offs are still at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Computers are now housed in rooms instead of entire buildings and in math teaching there is an emphasis on “new” math which opens the doors to thinking about “systems” and how computers are run.

    In the 80s people actually start using desk top computers (think Atari) and video games are more than just “pong.” We’ve had multiple flights to the moon and have sent probes further into space.

    I think you get the picture. Every step of the way there was a sharp learning curve. I remember my mom not being able to figure out how to use a cassette tape recorder (she was only in her 50s at the time) so she clung to using her 8 track to play music because all she had to do was pop in the 8 track tape. She didn’t want to learn about rewind and fast forward.

    So, here we are in 2012 and computers have gone through all their iterations, most seniors can’t figure out how to use their remote control device for the TV and have ot have their grandchildren figure it out. They remember writing snail mail letters and taking film to the drugstore to have it developed into pictures. It’s where their memories lie.

    Developmentally, aged (70+) adults have two primary tasks in order to meet their psychological needs. . One is to look back on their life and feel that they had an impact in some way. Learning new technology is something they would have to learn and therefore it doesn’t fit into their developmental need of feeling accomplished. Yes, they can feel accomplished once they learn it, but often the thought is “why bother.” As a home health nurse I have heard this response from elders multiple times. It’s just simply not something that is a priority to them.  The fact that the perception could be changed and they could be engaged in learning new technology with the assistance of a friend, a grandchild, etc. is a subject for another post.

    • Love this: “The fact that the perception could be changed and they could be engaged in learning new technology with the assistance of a friend, a grandchild, etc. is a subject for another post.”

    • My brother is a 56-year-old curmudgeon, but he asked me get him started on Facebook because it’s the only way he can stay in frequent contact with his son who is serving in Afghanistan. My bro is still a curmudgeon, but now he’s a curmudgeon on FB.

  24. I’m 58 and love technology. Several of my children – in their 20’s and early 30’s – call me for tech ideas. So it isn’t merely the old who are slow to embrace new things. Sometimes younger people are, as well, which makes me suspect that there’s another element at play here. Jane, I think you touched on it with your comment about problem solving skills.  I have tried to help people with their computer programs and had this sort of conversation: Them: “What’s this window on my screen for?” Me:”Well, what does it say?” Them: “I don’t know. I didn’t read it……oh.” Once they read and think, they often know the answer. Why don’t they engage with the technology?  

    I do realize that I’m an oddball in my generation. I love change and find it invigorating. I love to learn. Most people – old and young – don’t. I wonder if our teenagers (I have a 16 year old son who is a major techie) will stay on top of the wave of technology because their thinking/problem-solving skills have developed with the technology, or if it will tend to get away from them as well some day. Fascinating comments and post!

  25. I’ve tutored kids in math and I saw the exact same thing. The non-geeks who don’t know about tech stuff (or math) see geeks who are proficient in the subject. These geeks always seem to know what to do.  So it looks like magic to the non-geeks.

    The non-geeks believe that tech is a mystical knowledge that is bestowed from on high, and so they assume that non-geeks can never ever learn about tech and become geeks themselves. It doesn’t help that many geeks are condescending jerks to anyone who doesn’t get it.

    You just have to convince them that it’s another skill they can learn, like learning to read.

  26. Great conversation about a topic that I grapple with all the time.  I’m one of the 50+ who likes technology, but knows very little about it.  I realize that my computer has all of these fabulous abilities, but I don’t even know where to begin to ask someone how to help me learn more about it.  Computer terminology is a barrier for me.

    Also, I think that resistance to technology for many individuals in my age group is based on how expensive a computer or a smart phone w/ a plan turns out to be.  If I buy something today that will be obsolete in a year, why buy it at all if I can do without?  I don’t have money to burn on something that isn’t a long term investment.

  27. I am in awe of you, Jane. Given that networking is your job and passion, how do you decide priorities? I chuck 70 % of my inbox every morning before I can think clearly.  
    Growing up initially without TV I feel I lived several lifetimes, studying and working in different fields. Had I not challenged myself to do a sabbatical film degree as a mature student during the early 90’s I’m not sure I would have opened the door to the internet. 
    It came rushing at me. I learned fast that it helps to know what one wants from the web. While the speed of change is dizzying, my natural interests in metaphors and psychology keep me fascinated in how the cyber world affects us and where it leads. 
    What I don’t like is the idea of automatic interconnectedness that tells the whole world what I’m doing. I like to keep things a little separate, avoid most applications and do bookmarks manually. preferring the quality of communication to quantity.

    What gets me is when a teeny whiz kid  in a computer shop raises his eyebrows at what he considers my stupid questions. Or, after my 5 year old laptop crashed last year, expressed surprise  – ‘They’re only supposed to last 3 years.’ Software technicians are becoming semi gods.

    • In the ideal world I’d like to live in, if whiz kids were so wonderful, they’d be able to help people better understand the devices that don’t always function as they should!

      But to answer your question about deciding priorities … Online media is my priority, and networking is a nice side effect of that. 😉

  28. A funny thing happened on the way to building my platform: I learned a ton about tech and social media. Now I teach it to women who are 50+.  My oldest student is early 80s. These people are hungry for information, and when they get it, they feel empowered. My happiest moments are when I hear the little yips of delighted discovery. (I, myself, favor the Peanuts happydance. But then, as the teacher, I must have some dignity.)

    Then there are the people who say, for ex., “I have a Facebook account but I avoid it. The people are annoying and boring.” 

    I think we’re still in the transition space between “don’t get it yet and don’t care to,” and enthusiastic acceptance. The potential is so GREAT! One day soon, everybody will understand how cool it is to:

    1. have your own publishing empire (newspaper, radio program and TV show) just with a free WordPress.com blog
    2. create your own virtual coffee klatch/encounter group/community with either a blog or a busy Facebook presence.
    3. open your own virtual store and create a lifetime income by publishing your own books and making them available online thru Amazon.

    Man, the future’s so bright, I think I need shades!

  29. I know for my father it’s fear of change combined with stubbornness. He would rather spend $1 everyday on USA Today then reading it online for free, among thousands of other publications.

  30. I think it was Donald Maass who said that there are really just two things that sell a book:  1) a good story, well-written; and 2) word-0f-mouth.  Social media is a powerful way for word-of-mouth to spread. 

    So while I prefer to spend my time on craft, technique, getting the story right, and making my novel the best it can be, I’ve accepted that once I finish the book I’ll have to create an ‘on-line platform.’ I’ve learned enough of the social media technologies to allow me to do so, so why do I hesitate?

    Leaf River Writer (http://leafriverwriter.com/)  summed up a lot of my feelings on this matter. To learn the technologies isn’t impossible, but takes time from creative work.  It also takes time from writers’ groups, reading for pleasure (essential for a writer), and personal commitments–family, friends, yoga, etc. etc.  I go days or even a week or more without looking at Facebook or Goodreads.  Can barely keep up with good blogs like this one.  

    It makes me somewhat anxious that I don’t have my ‘platform’ established and I’m not spending much time on-line.  My energy is going to finishing the book. It sometimes helps for me to remember that I know quite a few readers of all ages who get their recommendations about what they read from places other than on-line social media. 

    Writers need to keep perspective on their on-line presence and try to evaluate exactly how much of the traffic their blogs get is just other writers, or how many actual readers follow an author’s tweets or Facebook postings.

    • Shelly, thanks for the shout out. One good thing that comes from our struggling is when we meet (on line) people like you who are articulate and thoughtful.

      One way of coping with my on-line anxiety is I celebrate each new connection I make and every one of Jane’s blogs I manage to read to the end (including the comments–sometimes they’re the best part :)

      So, I’m giving myself up to making a little progress this week in social media, and next week I will return to finish editnig my book.

      Also, can anyone recommend a way of organizing agent contacts? Is the on-line method safe? Or is it better to find a program that stays on my own computer?

  31. Damnit, Jane! I’m never learned how to program the VCR and now it’s Blu-Ray. What the hell is a Blu-Ray?

    Let me get two points in. 

    There is an Australian story I like very much and I’ve related it to tech. 

    Before the white man, this tribe of Aborigines had a system that worked. All property was owned by elders. Stone axes, spears, whatever they had, all owned by elders. The elders got the respect, culturally reinforced because the young people had to ask for the car keys. Along comes Captain English Explorer who trades with the young men of the tribe- of course it’s the young men, they are the energetic ones who explore, hunt, discover. So they are the ones who meet Captain English and his fine ship of his Majesty’s sailors. The boys on board need  a lot of fresh water information and kangaroo steaks and are willing to trade a metal knife, axe or a nail or two. What happens to the tribe? Culturally it falls apart. The young men don’t need to ask for the car keys any more. Why ask for a stone axe when you have a metal one? It’s yours. You earned it. New concepts of ownership are introduced to the tribe. 

    Our tribe has had a similar upheaval. Not long ago, if you wanted to eat you learned how to grow food. (Try to imagine that green supermarket stuff sticking out of dirt.) To eat you had to learn how to grow food or raise it from someone who had the experience of years on the land. That was valuable. If you wanted to learn how to build a house, plumb in your water line, fix your car,  the elder had the experience. 

    Enter high tech. The kids teach their elders about Facebook, Twitter, or how to use this or that program. The fearfulness and anxiety about tech that you’ve noticed, I would submit, perhaps can’t be separated from a cultural change in how our tribe has traditionally dealt with knowledge. There would naturally be a cultural reticence from elders in the tribe. 

    One more story. There was a fellow who fixed computer problems over the phone. He was dealing with a little old lady. He got her to the point where he wanted her to focus on one icon on the desktop, then click on it. The conversation went something like this:

    “Do you see it?”

    “Yes,” she said.

    “Point to it.”

    “I am.”

    “What happens?”


    “You see nothing happening?”


    “Let’s do it again. Point at it again.”

    “I am.”

    “What happens?”


    He could not fathom why no little pop up or whatever happened until he started asking her the most basic questions he could of what she was doing.

    Exactly as he asked her to, she was pointing to the icon on the screen. 

    She was pointing with her finger. 

      • Damnit, Jane! I should never give away stories. Ka-ching. There’s a book there somewhere. My humbleness thanks you. Cheers. 

      • Same, same, Susan!

        I learned how to type on a typewriter, paid $10 each for my first columns on an Olympia I bought for $5 at a flea market. I’ve been using Macs since the mid-80s and to this day have no idea how to operate a PC.

        Many of us have compartmentalized tech phobias. 

        I may sweat it out over PCs, wondering what in hell to do next. Even though I’ve used computers for 25 years (it actually feels  like I’ve used them longer- more like a quarter-century) I am a PC-phobe. I. Love. Macs. Only.                    To me, Macs aren’t technical. They are fuzzy friendly, intuitive, helpful creatures that do everything but purr. But put a PC in front of me and I sweat bullets, wonder where the hell the desktop is hidden and why can’t they design a proper pull-down menu so I can find something- anything.

        A lot of times it is as simple as what you’re used to.

        When I was younger I was in New Zealand with some new friends and we were trying to think of a game to play. 

        “Rugby,” the Aussies and Kiwis suggested. 

        “Too complex,” I said. “We can’t figure that game out. Let’s play touch football.” 

        In my arrogance touch football was so easy, and I couldn’t understand it at first then they said, sorry, too complicated. Sometimes it’s as simple as whatever you’re used to. 

        Some fellows 75 plus can open the hood of a car and tinker- well maybe not the latest cars, but you get the idea. They are used to tinkering with complex machinery. But I wonder what a lot of them would do in front of a smart phone. 

  32. Fear of breaking equipment is reasonable when instruction manuals are now obsolete – or at least a web address with instructions. This information is not always easy to find.
    I bought a camera last week. The enclosed booklet does not say what the symbols on the dials mean – this is basic info that I need. (The company site only has sales info, but no guide.) I can guess, I can go online again and hope to find something about my model, or I can use the settings that I understand and never really learn about the camera. 

  33. I’m not fearful of new media, just getting to the saturation point.  I’m tech-friendly, I swear: I like to play :)
    In November of last year, I leapt onto the platform-building bandwagon.  I abandonned what was an awkward Joomla! site in favour of a WordPress blog and mapped out a plan.  I was already on Facebook, but decided to add Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ to the menu, one a month, and see what I could do with it.
    My blog got hacked in February, something I attribute to the hosting service, and fearing residual code, said service insisted on a wipe of everything.
    That derailed me some, but I rallied quickly.  I’d purchased my name domain in January, intending to apply it to my blog, so imported and mapped it to WordPress.com where http://www.melaniemarttila.ca now happily resides.  I now save everything in document form as well as do monthly backups (exports) of the site.
    Things are going much better now.  I have regular followers and commenters.
    The thing is, while I’ve improved my use of FB, I still haven’t “mastered” Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+.  I have Hootsuite, but though I see its utility, I prefer the appearance and utility of the native apps and UI.  I use Google Reader now to manage my blog subscriptions.  I’ve joined Goodreads too, but I’m just about at my limit. 
    I might have gone in a little over my head this month when I joined Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge.  I’m stuck on the guest blogging and interview assignments, both of which I had intended to start doing, but not so soon …  I only restarted my blog March 12, 2012. 
    My biggest challenge is time management.  Working a day job, the nights were my only time to write, an now half of that has disappeared in posting, networking, and trying to keep up with my Author Salon critique group.
    I have the time management skills, but haven’t found a way to implement them around my new platforming activities in a way that allows me to do everything.  I’ve even cut back on what I do, but I’m still struggling.
    My inner luddite is threatening a coup.
    What I need to do is step back, take a breather, and return to my original plan.  I’m just too much of a keener for my own good.
    I don’t know if this is the kind of information you were looking for, but it’s my five cents (you know they’re decommissioning the Canadian penny, right?).

    • I’m 70 yrs. old and I just started a blog on WordPress. I hope your blog didn’t get hacked when it was on wordpress, because I thought they had the good security. How will I know if my blog gets hacked? Also what is residual code? I was amazed that you are doing so much platform building and still writing and working a day job. Congratulations.

  34. Pingback: Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman

  35. well, as something who is familiar with the computer (writing a book, e mailing, documents etc) the tech thing sort of fills me with fear. Hash tags? Still not sure what they are . . but I am learning. Thanks for above post and I will share.

  36. Tech doesn’t scare me it intrigues and interests me.
    In my home, I live on the cusp of two generations.  My oldest child is 20 years younger than me and my husband is 8 years older.  I love the next new gadget and am interested to learn to use it…and I usually do, through trial and error.  I am willing and wanting.  Unlike my kids though, I don’t leap first and think later.  I actually stop to think if this new piece of tech is really beneficial or another sparkly new toy.  My husband on the other hand is very minimalist and is skeptical that everything is someone else’s get rich/make you poor scheme.
    I enjoy the tech advances that seem to be flying by us faster than we can master them and I look forward to more programs and devices that can make my writing life easier.

  37. As one of those aging writers, I can only say what frustrates me about technology. I started on a manual typewriter–yes, I’m that old. I knew the typewriter. I knew it’s limitations and how to manipulate it to type what I needed (most of the time). Today’s tech is not simple. It doesn’t require the same brain work that my old typewriter did. You learn how to do things one day and the next day it changes. You can’t just sit back and do your job, you have to keep learning things that have nothing to do with your creative process in progress. It tires me out! It is rather like housework. You spend the day cleaning your house, doing all those jobs you really hate and that make you sweat. At the end of the day, your job is done and you go to bed. The next morning, you wake up and it has magically exploded back into the dump you spent yesterday cleaning. The sink is full of dishes, the hampers are stuffed with stinking clothes, and the trash is overflowing. That is technology for the aging person. You can’t do what you are supposed to do–write–because you spend all your time trying to figure out the next fabulous advancement in technology that will make your job easier. 

  38. I’m an older adult and I can explain a little about the tech-fearfulness. When I was 55 I was working as a clerk in a dept. store and I decided I wanted a better job. I went to an interview and when I arrived they sat me down at a computer and tested my skills. I had no experience at all and I failed miserably. I was mortified and left the building with a bad case of tech-terror. 
    Finally I took a weekend class on computers at a tech school, and now I’m fairly comfortable with my HP! The tech world seems to be a place I’m passing through, but I don’t feel like I’m part of it.

  39. I’m sometimes hesitant about new technology, but I wouldn’t call it fear, exactly. More just a watching and waiting, rather than jumping right in with something that hasn’t been proven over time. I don’t have the time or energy to pour into some new app or social network that is more than likely just a fad that will pass in a year or so. Once I see that it’s more than a passing trend, I’ll gladly join in. But when it comes to technology, I’ll probably never be the first on any bandwagon. There’s often great benefit from watching and waiting.

  40. I am 66 years old.  I don’t see it as an age barrier when technology rears into view.  I do concede that each generation is more comfortable with their world around them – its a given, not something new.

    However, I believe there are two factors that make someone easily accept a ‘new’ technology – the first would be interest, the second faith in ability to use.

    My youngest son, in his thirties, loves all the newest gadgets that surround music and/or film but as far as computers go, it’s a make it work, I can’t be bothered with its care.

    As to the second,  it arrives out of the first reason – when I was a toddler, yes I had my dolls but my need to know how things worked and were put together, caused a lot of take a parts.  However, I also wanted to put completely back together, while my brother would have bits and parts strewn about, that were to his mind, unneeded for functionality.

    Through the years, as each new convenience or ‘toy’ came available, if affordable, it was utilized.

    When I went into positions, I was flexible and if called upon to fix a machine, I took it apart, carefully, learning the ins and outs of the workings.  If a repairman need calling, I was the one watching over the shoulder so, I could deal with the problem in the future.

    My last area of an ‘outside the home – paying job’ was working in a library.  I had always wanted to be a librarian but never slowed down long enough to finish my college and obtain that coveted MLS.  The closest thing was being a circulation clerk in a small town library.  Within a year of my hire, computers moved in.  They are all menu driven modeled for the needs of the local and tied into the library system where I eventually worked out my last days as a career woman.  

    When the computers were uncovered and the teacher was ready to have the first trainee, I held back only because I was the last hired.  However, since no one was willing to step forward, I did.  I was the oldest but to me that computer represented another machine – only as good as the programmer.

    Interest and Personality is the make up of the person’s IP.

  41. I’m just over 50 and was hesitant to use social media when I restarted my writing life. Yet I realized that if I wanted to get serious about writing, I would need to learn how to use these tools. So I decided to create a blog for new writers to share what I learn. I’ve been exploring social media one tool at a time, and the fear (mistakes, looking foolish, my name in cyberspace, etc.) is fading, one post/tweet/update at a time.

  42. I’m not afraid of new media technology, I’m concerned about getting it done right, because I don’t speak the language, which seems to change weekly (okay, monthly).  I still don’t understand hashtags, how you do it, why you do it, how long will it last in these days of rapid replacement of the New Big Thing.  The sense of what is lasting and valuable has the half-life of a Mayfly (hyperbole, yes, but at 70 I deserve some latitude).  Rapid changes in the rules and look of of Twitter, Facebook, Myface, Yourlife, Avatar, Gravatar, the T-thing you use in Facebook (or is it Twitter) to manage your “Wall” (or has that changed?), etc.  All this for the supposed benefit of getting a better (which I think means bigger) “platform” in order to get more potential buyers for my books and stories.  All this bitching aside, I believe that e-publishing is far superior to the traditional means of getting published at which I’ve been both successful (non-fiction) and to this point unsuccessful (fiction).

    By the way, you have a terrific, meaning very helpful, blogSteve Figler (skfigler.com)

  43. Pingback: 3 Resources to Help You With Tech | Jane Friedman

  44. I am one of those people you refer to. The problem I find is there is too much information and that information is not simple. I’ve been told, just sit and experiment with the computer. However, each explanation leads to more and more and more stuff. It’s confusing so I just give up.

  45. I love the way younger people like to explain “older people” (re: Bonnee). As an “older person” I find that the new media, twitter, blogs, facebook, etc., can be real time-stealers…and as I progress toward my own crypt, I’m less inclined to engage in what can become, pardon the expression, a masturbatory experience…I’d rather be writing, creating..not that you can’t do that in social media, it’s just that I’d like to produce something less transitory…

  46. I just looked at your newsletter theme “Get Smarter with Tech” and realized one more reason why people find tech off-putting: IT’S SO TECHNICAL! 

    Reading the titles of some of your articles, some questions come to mind. For a person not comfortable with tech these questions might be obvious: Why would I buy a Kindle? Why would I want to know how to deal with PDFs? Why on earth would I want to create custom Facebook pages? To make them shinier, sexier, flash like a 50s neon hotel sign? Why? 

    You’re wondering why people feel uncomfortable with tech. Maybe you’re asking the question wrong. 

    Perhaps questions and answers should come from a different angle: What on earth can tech do for me? What do I need with PDF’s and Kindles and glow-in-the-dark Facebook pages for?

    I don’t think that question has been answered for some people. Many people. This basic question that perhaps should come first: Why do I need it?

    It’s bad enough when you are familiar with tech enough that you know what you need and can’t find it. Heaven help the person who doesn’t know enough to ask what he or she needs it for in the first place. 

    I’ll close with a story, that could be related. An old joke, updated. 

    Fast-talking appliance salesman halts a housewife shopping and shows her a brand-new Gee Whiz Appliance. 

    “What is it?” she asks. 

    “This?” he says, looking at it proudly. “Buy this Gee-Whiz high tech appliance and your housework will be cut in half.”

    “Fine,” she says. “I’ll take two.”

    Another story. True this time.

    I was in a  garage when a mechanic brought out a part just removed from a car and put it on the counter in front of a middle-aged woman, obviously the car’s owner. 

    I had no idea what the thing was. She obviously didn’t either. The mechanic looked at the dirty, greasy, blackened part. 

    “It looks pretty bad,” he said.

    “Yes,” she said, looking at it, puzzled. “It does.”

    • I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a review of a book (about thriving in a digital age) that emphasizes not what technology is capable of, but what we want to experience.


      Kindles, PDFs, and other such tools (or tech) are only successful insofar as they offer a (desired) experience. But many people reject them out of hand because of the unpleasantness and uncomfortableness of the unknown or of having to learn a new way. How many of us are open to changing our experiences? Experimenting?

      • Ah, yes. The fun element. Children can take a new thing, explore it, create, adapt it, adopt it. There is a barrier somewhere, some curtain comes down at a certain point for people to say, no I am not comfortable with this. 
        I’m just thinking out loud over coffee here. I’ll be going through this uncomfortable tech thing soon myself, going past my own barriers. I have to publish an e-book. The book was written about 15 years ago. I have rescued it off an old MacIntosh from the floppy disc era, now putting it through editing while reading up on how to publish to Amazon. I am not having a good time with that, finding out about e-book publishing. I am not finding it fun. I am finding it a pain in the Royal Canadian. I am not finding it creative. I need to get it right and my questions exceed any answers I’m finding. It is a chore akin to a do-it-yourself root canal. 
        I now have empathy with those uncomfortable with tech. In fact, I am of the opinion tequila and tech don’t just sound similar, they may go well together. 
        I read your link this early morning, but now, just minutes later, I can’t remember what I read. I’ll read it again later. Thanks. 
        I need more coffee. The coffee pot I have figured out. 

        • I prefer to pair my tech with bourbon, but that seems a subjective preference. 😉

          If you ever decide you want to hire a little assistance, let me know via e-mail. I’ll recommend some good people.

          • Thank you. Very much. 
            Hold the “good people” thought. I will try to muddle through. 
            I do honestly appreciate your reply, which makes me feel very, very grateful, and a little like I’m invading your e-space- I hope I’m not- because I thought it would be helpful, as the question is what makes you anxious and fearful about tech- is to describe my struggles with e-publishing this book as I go.I’ll follow up in about a month from now, I think, with another letter to Jane Friedman. If that’s okay. Perhaps other people have this same problem, getting the book off the computer into other people’s hands. Or Kindles.  My headway so far:1) From the time this book was written it will only be about 15 years before it’s published.2) There was no downloading the work that I knew about. So in order to take the work off the floppy disc era Mac I wrote it on, I had to photograph each page off the screen. Two photographs each page, scrolling down for the second shot. That’s a lot of shots. 3) I then retyped every one of the approximately 180,000 words. 4) My self-imposed May 27 publishing deadline has passed. I believe I’m another month away. So now it is June 29, a Friday. That may be ambitious. We’ll see. 5) I am still carefully editing. One edit for legal stuff- a lot of law matters here- and then a “final edit” which will, because I can’t leave well enough alone, be followed by a “final final edit”. 6) I then have to join Amazon- which means, I think,  providing financial data online for the first time to any company. That’s a tech hurdle I’m not comfortable with. 7) The ISBN next. Canada is easer to obtain an ISBN than the USA. Hopefully, no worries there. That has to be done very soon. 8) Then I have to follow the advice of some person named Jane Friedman on marketing this. Gather e-mail addresses, aim for the people who need the book, that sort of thing. That plan is actually easy. Educators, student governance people, lawyers, post-secondary school administrators, school boards, individual trustees. A lot of letters to write and send. A media kit to design. A small, three-page package for trustees and board of governors members. Student government leaders may get five pages. Perhaps a poster included. We’ll see. It’s a thought. 9) The self-designed cover has undergone three revisions. I feel comfortable with the last one. So far. Next step to fine tune it. I have Quark on another old Mac (they seem to last forever, Macs), then reimport it back into Pages as a PDF created from Photoshop, hoping that works. 10) Set a price. No idea here. I have thought of $2. I have thought of $10. Price-wise, advice from Steve Martin via 1970s vinyl record, from memory, not an exact quote:”If do one show for 1,000 people at $10 each that gives me $10,000. Then I thought if I could do one show for 10,000 people at $100 each, that gives me, oh, one million dollars. Then I thought if I could do one show for one hundred thousand people for tickets at one thousand dollars each… (crowd laughs, cheers, already approving) …and that’s…what I’m shootin’ for. One show. Good..bye.”(Crowd laughs and cheers wildly as if they just tasted bourbon for the very first time.)Now I will refrain from e-commenting on my e-tech e-publishing fears and phobias on your e-space until I’m much closer to being e-published. With much e-thanks. 

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