If you're like many people today, you may be feeling at least a little overwhelmed by the technology confronting you. Or maybe more than a little overwhelmed, making you think: How did I get so far behind? Don't worry, you're not alone. A study by Cambridge University found that a third of people have felt overwhelmed by technology — by everything from e-mail to Twitter. They also found that feeling stressed about your communications technology can lead to general feelings of dissatisfaction with your life. If you're thinking it's only the baby boomers and traditionalists who feel so stressed by technology, you're wrong. The same study found about 38 percent of young tech users (ages 10 to 18) also felt confounded by too much technology.
What makes technology so bewildering?
More categories: It used to be that keeping up with computer advances was confusing. But now almost everything we use gets more sophisticated. Just check out the latest smart phones, e-readers, and music and video players.
More choices: Each type of gadget has competitors, and it seems as if every day there is a new technology dubbed a "game changer."
More pressure to get the latest and greatest.
Constant upgrades, leaving you trying to time when to buy your new phone or computer. A colleague told me she desperately needed a new phone, but was told by others to wait a few more months for the next version to come out. Great advice, except that her current phone doesn't work.
Inconsistent reviews from numerous sources. Whose review should you rely on?
Economists tell us that choice is good, but up to a point. If there are too many choices, often we have trouble making any decision because we are afraid we will make the wrong one. We become paralyzed and don't take any action because we are cognitively overloaded. Somehow, you need to regain a sense of control and self-efficacy or mastery of the technology in your environment.
Take that first step to learn about one area. Find people you feel comfortable asking for help. You are learning a new skill.
Get a tech buddy who really listens to what you need and want, and doesn't try to sell you on all the latest gadgets. Sometimes, a well-meaning friend tries to help us out by explaining all the latest tech jargon. This only makes us feel more overwhelmed. Let it be known that you just want something that meets your needs.
Talk to younger people and get comfortable with reverse mentoring. I have come to accept the fact that my undergraduate and graduate students understand (and are quicker) at solving some tech issues than I. Your younger colleagues at work are also generally happy to explain their gadgets. Take some time to learn from them.
Review the listings to narrow your choices. Many websites that advertise products list "special offers" or "staff recommendations" or "what other similar customers have purchased."
Talk to friends and colleagues, and get them to explain why they picked a certain model. Ask what they wished they had known about it before they purchased it and what they don't like about it.
Start small: Pick one area and try to spend a little time learning about that area. You might not be the tech guru on all areas in a month, but pick one area and try to learn what you can. Remember your sense of humor, and take deep breaths when you start to feel overwhelmed.
Put it into perspective: The decision you make about which camera, computer or phone to buy is not going to have a life-altering effect. You're not marrying the technology for life. Odds are, you'll be buying another version soon.