Conquer Your Technophobia

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by Amanda Fortini
ipad illustration image

Although I am only 37 years old, computers, software, hardware— devices of any kind—make me anxious, even avoidant.

I have put off upgrading to an iPhone 5 for fear of losing my contacts in the transition. I have never read a book on a tablet (to put this in perspective: My 88-year-old grandfather owns a Kindle). I have an iPad still in its original plastic—a gift from the Christmas before last. And that cloud thing everyone’s talking about? I have no idea what it is.

In fact, my ignorance is so elemental that I don’t even know the difference between my desktop and my hard drive, which is, perhaps, the technological equivalent of not knowing your ass from your armpit.

And so I seek the counsel of Elissa Murphy, vice president of engineering for cloud services at Yahoo (she’s since become chief technology officer and executive vice president of platforms at Her expertise in this realm is so vast that it’s difficult for me to even understand her bio—she has some 15 patents pending “in the areas of high-scale distributed systems, security, machine learning, archiving and cloud.” This is a woman chose to take computer- programming classes in fourth grade.

But Murphy’s warm, precise, assured phone manner immediately puts me at ease. “First, I want to tell you, you’re being way too hard on yourself,” she says. Though she shows me how to drag files into a folder on my hard drive (so simple I’m torn between humiliation and delight), she admits that she herself just saves everything on her desktop because that makes her files “easier to find.” This is what I’ve always done— my computer desktop is as cluttered with files and folders as my real one is with papers—and I’d long thought it was aberrant, in a harmless, noncriminal sort of way. I’m gratified to hear that it’s not.

The cloud, Murphy continues, is like “your computer in the sky,” a repository of information that can be accessed by different devices.

Murphy brings me around to the view that technology is not a foreign, unfathomable tangle of jargon but rather a set of ideas as accessible to me as any other.

“How do you learn about anything new? You do your research, right?” she asks. Technology, she points out, is worth this effort because it’s “changing the way that we both learn and interact,” even altering the types of experiences we have.

What if I embraced these changes with optimism, enthusiasm and excitement instead of fear? “Play with stuff and see where it takes you,” she urges. “Be curious. The more you use it, the less intimidating it will get.”

Murphy was right. Since our session, I’ve tucked away old files, joined Instagram, researched software for the blog I’ve long wanted to start and powered up my dormant iPad. Soon I’ll be calling my grandfather for e-book recommendations.

Amanda Fortini has written for the New Yorker, Elle, Slate, Salon the New York Times and others.

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Illustration courtesy of Radu Bercan/

First Published Fri, 2013-06-21 11:24

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