More than half of Britons are still afraid of using computers, the internet, and e-mail, new research shows.
The survey of 2,000 UK adults, published for National Computing Day, shows that 42% of people are not confident enough to use a computer at all.
Despite a government push to get everyone online by 2005, only 28% believe that knowing how to use a computer is important.
More advanced things such as downloading MP3 music files prove the scariest to users, with only 13% feeling confident about using such technologies.
How scared are you of computers? Are you a technophile or a technophobe? Do you feel you already know as much as you need about computers to get by? If you're brave enough, please use the form on the right.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
Computers are relatively simply things; it's the software that causes the problems. The lack of standards across the industry causes huge interconnectivity problems, and it's not helped by software developers trying to achieve unreachable goals with every release. Developers try and make the product all things to all people rather than concentrating on getting the basic core functionality correct, yet the majority of users only utilise a fraction of their software's potential (look at your word processor and count how many of the menu options you actually use on a regular basis).
They also try and do it using untried but trendy methods and languages simply because it's more fashionable and interesting than doing it the easy way. As a software tester I've seen this so many times in so many companies yet the lesson never seems to be learnt.
David Priddy, UK
Only the ones with big sticks and wide, staring eyes.
As a car driver I don't need to know what a venturi is. Why then as a computer user do I have to know what RAM is? Make the use of PCs easy and the understanding of them irrelevant.
What scares me is how we have allowed the computer to become so powerful in such a short space of time, and let those running the industry walk all over the rest of us. The abuse of the general public's ignorance about computers is appalling. The ridiculous almost mythical, stigma of being super intelligent, or important because you "work in IT" is a joke, I just wish people would realise what a con the whole thing is. All computers can do is add up in units of 1, it's just they do it very very very fast. Most programming is done via GUIs, the internet is just telephone with pictures, and email is just telegrams without paper. It's a real case of a few people conning a few million.
Computers no, Software yes.
There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't.
Guy Chapman, UK
Not scared of them, just incredibly frustrated at their cussedness. I have not found one aspect of the computer industry that fulfils the promises of its proponents, and as to how a collection of circuits can be perpetually premenstrual I shall never know.
Rod Shaw, Australia
I have been working with computers and people who use computers for over 20 years. The operating systems that people use have evolved and for the most part have become simpler to use. Unfortunately this simplicity has opened doors for viruses, worms, etc. and a reduction in the truly skilled technician. (Yes, you can repair a computer without a GUI :)
Ric Stephens, Canada
I work in IT support, so will admit I am biased, but it often amuses me that many of the people who confess to being scared of computers will happily undertake plumbing or wiring work in their house, or service their car. If you screw up on a computer it won't drown you, electrocute you or leave you stranded in a dodgy part of town in a downpour. Get a grip, people! Computers are getting friendlier and easier with each new operating system. They install themselves, guide you through changes with helpful, colourful pop up messages, and installing new hardware is a case of plugging the thing in and switching it on. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.
Over 20 years ago one would have been considered a GEEK if you knew anything about computers. The tide has turned and the shoe is on the other foot now, in that if you DON'T know about computers you are considered a geek.
Andy P, Suffolk UK
I am definitely a technophile - gadgets galore abound in my house and my life. I have a small flat but use wireless networking. My PDA helps direct me to work by connecting to a GPS unit. And with two Bluetooth phones - I am never out of touch with the connected world.
Rob P, UK
Scared of a pile of wires and bits? No way! I learned how to master the beast but I keep it on a short leash because of all the possibilities out there. It CANNOT blow up with you or take over your home. Get wired.
S Small, USA
While I was in the school, we used to peek into the computer room just to see how it looked like. After completing graduation, still I didn't know how to switch it on. Now, I am providing technical support for PCs. I would say computers are easy to learn, only if you are willing.
Seems to be a theme of "buy an apple" - it's the mainstream use of IBM clones with all their complexity and incompatibilities and lack of consistency that seem to give a lot of problems. Apples and others like Amiga were and still are made to be as simplistic in use as possible, geared to the user and not its sales figures. Unfortunately this is also one of the reasons they are not dominant anymore - I miss my dear old easy to use Amiga.
I am still scared of my computer but hope by attending classes to become familiar with it, especially INTERNET which I would love to be able to use easily, instead every time I try, things happen that throw me completely.
Jane B. Gosby, England
I am a software engineer and a graduate student working on his masters in CompSci. We should really step back a moment and realize that computers are different things to different people. Ask yourself, are you frightened of an Automatic Teller/Banking Machine? The answer is probably no. Yet, therein lies all the basic components of a modern computer: interactive software, keys, expected responses etc.
Desktop computers are just as simple only their applications (uses) are more complex. If you know how to type then you can use a word processor. If you are a mathematician then likely you can use the computer to solve complex polynomials with ease. And if you are a music buff you can certainly learn more about and listen to the artists that you love. It is important to remember that the thing most people fear is the application, not the tool. If you like doing something and you think a computer can help you develop that interest, go for it.
Being afraid of computers is a curious notion. Someone saying their afraid of computers is like them saying that they are afraid of horseless carriages. On the other hand; I blame the tech industry for a good amount of the fear, and the movie industry for the rest. Techs tend to make computers seem mysterious. It's just a machine, and techs are just the mechanics for those machines, and there are techs that won't explain anything to the users. Computers are not complicated machines. Programs used on them can be complicated, and at times overly so.
Steven Collins, USA
Spare a thought for those of us that work in technical support. All I ever see is computers that aren't doing what they're supposed to!
I think that those who claim to be scared of computers are just using it as an excuse for being to lazy to learn about them. They are not scary, they are the most stupid things around, even my gerbil is more intelligent than my computer. So get a grip, get a good book and learn about your stupid but non scary computer.
Alan Addison, Britain
What amazes me is how unfriendly software is. Let's face it, people are afraid of software, not computers. Software peddlers change the look and feel of their software from version to version, or package to package. Imagine the outcry if Ford decided to reverse the order of foot pedals in their cars, but not their vans!
Computers have provided, over the past 15 years, a more efficient way of performing some tasks. Whilst not 'afraid' of them per se, I certainly worry about their unreliability and questionable security. They have not changed my life and in many instances I avoid using them because they are not the most efficient means of doing the job. For most computers are a frustrating toy, the pervasiveness of computers in our societies is as much an indication of the willingness of individuals to be sucked into the marketing games of electronics companies and their hired futurists.
Steven Mann, New Zealand
Are not all people scared/afraid of what they do not understand?
It's somewhat like a phobia, I guess the answer is, dive in, try it and yes your make mistakes but feel better for it. Modern computer software of contains help files which also aid newbies so there really is no reason to be scared of computers.
What is the worst that can happen?
Richard Sweetman, England
If you're fed up with all the crashes, viruses, hackers, pop-up windows, annoying little paper clips, poor software design and generally bad usability then buy an Apple Mac. You'll find it's like a breath of fresh air. I don't understand why more people don't use them and why people feel as though they have to buy a pc. Macs are designed above all to be user friendly so if this is what you're looking for then look no further. Visit your local Apple dealer.
Jonathan Guy, UK
Scared of computers? I don't get it. If you don't need it then you don't need it. If you do need it then use it for what you need it for except you don't know how to in which case simply call a friend/colleague etc. Help is always at hand. If you want to be an expert then get some training.
I will be 68 next week and I love my computer. I send and receive numerous e-mails, surf the web, shop online, listen to music, and much more. I also use Word a lot for documents and have just produced invitations for my granddaughter's Halloween party. I do think it is very important for older people particularly, to keep up to date otherwise they are left behind by the modern world.
Joanne M. Anderson, UK
If half of the population are scared of computers, how come there has been such a growth in computer use? There are not many jobs around where a computer of some sort is not used.
Chris Graver, England
I've worked in the computer industry for over 5 years now after studying computing at university. While I sympathise with people who find technology daunting my advice is to remain composed, don't be afraid and most importantly read the manual where possible! It's amazing how many people never read any instructions...
Steve Martin, UK
Since I was a software engineer in 1961 (one of the first) I've no excuse at 63 to be intimated. But I'm constantly amazed at how little progress has been made in system user-friendliness by computer companies in the past 40+ years. There's no excuse for constant crashing, freezing and undecipherable messages. No wonder so many people feel wary.
John McNeil, Scotland
It's not the computers that we need to worry about, it's the people who programme them.
Kevin B, UK in US
I've built computers from components, programmed them, networked them, and see them as tools. I've taught people to use them and helped them with their problems. What I'm concerned with is that people who use them too much forget there is a real world out there.
Mark Taylor, USA
I'm not scared of computers, but I'm worried by people who think that they are the only way of improving schools, libraries and public services. If they don't have a clear function, don't use them.
Cole Davis, England
I grew up with computers, so I've never had a problem with them. My Mum has long since got to grips with it. I think people take one look at a computer and think 'I can't do that'. But it isn't that difficult. Just take it one step at a time, or get a good book on the subject to get you through the basics or a night course. It really is a lot easier than it may look.
David Patrick, UK
If you became too scared.....just turn it off!
It's a box, with a TV attached to it that does lots and lots of interesting things. Don't moan, experiment, play and learn.
As a self-confessed geek and software developer, I am far from surprised when people express fear about computers. A major part must be the shameless liberties salespeople take when selling PCs, being more interested in selling the top system than meeting their customers' needs. Of course, it doesn't help when in many stores the salespeople themselves know little about the product. Education, as always, is the key.
James Shiell, New Zealand
My computer will be more afraid of me after I've smashed it with a hammer.
Mark Goodman, UK
When I first started with the computer I didn't even know how to move the mouse! As my love for this gadget grew so did my knowledge of it. Overcoming fear is the first step in 'conquering' computers. I also braved myself in solving hardware and software problems - doesn't always work but hey, you get experience and confidence.
Hafizi Azmal, Malaysia
People fail to understand that a computer is a complex tool. You cannot just jump into a JCB and start rebuilding your house and the same concept applies to computers. The best way to learn to use a computer is to simply try it out, see what you can do, learn by mistakes.
Charles MacIntyre, UK
No, I'm not scared of computers. I'm just scared of people who know a lot about computers.
Forget reading manuals - do what kids do, mess and don't be afraid of breaking the computer. Short of taking it apart or resting your coffee in the CD-drive, you can't do anything which can't be repaired by either a minor change in the settings or re-installing software.
My computer has completely changed my life in terms of communication and creativity through website design. I am not a 'geek' and I am 61 years old. Anyone can learn how to use a computer if they put their mind to it and, in doing so, it can provide a great deal of satisfaction.
Bob McKenzie, UK
I'm involved in running a computer club that celebrates its 25th birthday next week.
Back when we started, we were introducing microcomputers to 8-10 year olds. Now we're more likely to be helping out the 65+ generation.
My advice to anyone who's scared would be to find a local computer club - we're all friendly people, and we remember that we all started out knowing nothing!
I'm 51, played about with computers since the Sinclair Spectrum. Taught myself how to use and repair one. Have helped friends choose and use computers. I have now got broadband and it's great. I love computers - no-one should be afraid of them.
Rob Bellamy, England
Someone should point out that most computers used by the general public are glorified word-processors, typewriters with memories. Computers can be found in aircraft calculating great circle routes. To be afraid of a word processor is nothing short of insanity!!
My job is to make computer using easier for 2000+ people. The problem with ALL computers is that they are not initially set up in a way that makes them transparent to the user. Ask any of my users however, and they will tell you that I factor how they use their systems into the way I set them up. Got an email attachment? It's in your attachments folder on your desktop. Downloaded a file from MusicMatch? It's in your Internet Downloads folder, also on your desktop. Want to run Word? Just click the button for it I put on the side of your desktop. If their systems are hard to use, I have not done my job. I only wish more IT administrators looked at the problem this way.
I am a Computer Engineer and I understand the feelings of people who are not confident about using computers. Most systems I work on are baffling to the average person, and some are as user-friendly as a cornered rat. This is a failing of the computer industry, not the public. When an otherwise perfectly capable person has to use, for example, a word processor, their are made to feel helpless and embarrassed because the machine speaks computerese rather than English. To the programmers I would say "Make your systems talk to humans, not just to other computer geeks like me".
I can't believe that in 2003 people are afraid of computers. We spend every day of our lives surrounded by computers, in our video recorders, DVDs CDs and almost anything that requires electricity. I don't thinks its that people are afraid of computers. It's just that they are stupid!
Or would they prefer we go back to the days of the abacus and scrubbing boards for the washing?
PCs are not designed to interoperate with humans on their own terms. Therefore, the user has to adjust to the machine. No problem to those of us who have been using them for 15+ years, or have grown up with them. But many middle-aged people will struggle to learn the skill, just as they would struggle to learn a new language.
It has probably got to the stage that people are afraid to admit to their friends that they do not know, yet, how to work a computer...
Bob France, UK
The results don't "surprise" me at all, if anyone hasn't been brought up with something or used it frequently then they will be apprehensive about using it, this applies to anything. Computers are remarkably complex machines, and the software that runs on them is equally complex, because of this they are prone to unpredictable actions. I work for an IT company and I don't understand them and I never will. I think it's fine not to understand them because people will use them as they wish. Nobody should be forced to use computers more than they need. We forget that not everyone needs a computer to survive.
It's not the computers that scare me, it's the techies that bore you rigid with their fascination for the detail of what's inside them that frightens me.
In response to Peter's comments re Techies.
I'm not scared of PCs, just the endless series of questions I get asked by my friends and relatives who know that I work in IT and therefore MUST know all about PCs and why theirs won't print etc etc. My job is nothing to do with PCs and I hate the stupid things.
It's called learning. We see ourselves as an intelligent species, but many are too lazy to learn anything, how ironic is that?
Isaac, California, US
Working on helpdesk, it is amazing, amusing and sometimes upsetting to hear what people will NOT do to a computer for fear of breaking it. Most people either think it's there to type on and, after five years with one, know nothing about it. Others think that they are the most fragile things on earth and are scared to touch it for fear of doing something wrong or irreparably damaging it.
David Gower, England
Having bought into IT when Sinclair brought out his ZX81 my main observation would be that most technicians I know would rather keep us humble users ignorant for their own benefit. Once you find out how simple it all is really you realise that people have been keeping things from you. My advice to anyone scared of IT is to join a local authority course and get in with a like-minded group of IT virgins. Once you're hooked there's no going back!
John Barber, UK
Of course people are scared of MP3s, when you look at the contradictory messages being sent out its obvious. The RIAA suing people for downloading music and burning CD's is not going to encourage people to download music.
On the bright side, the sheer number of people who currently shy away from using computers represents a huge potential market for those software companies willing to invest the time and effort needed to develop more functional and more intuitive user interfaces, and thereby simplifying the lives of all of us - technophiles and technophobes alike.
George Savvides, Canada
The only thing that terrifies me about my computer is the tangle of wires around it. It's as impenetrable as a mangrove swamp and I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Lucan was lost in there somewhere. Why oh why must every scanner, monitor, modem, screen, joystick, etc. have its own separate transformer to add to the rats nest that is today's PC. Sadly "wireless" doesn't mean extortionless else I'd jump on this technology bandwagon too.
P Burns, UK
It's a machine, inanimate. Faults can be corrected. Software is benign, faults can be corrected. Now, surgery, that's something to be scared of!
I'm about as far from scared of computers as you can get. As a tool, I would consider them the most useful invention of the 20th century - and also the most complex. Personally, I think it's this, along with a natural tendency for people who are skilled in computer use to hang together on the net, that makes people who don't know how to use computers feel less confident.
Realistically, anyone can use a computer, in the same way that anyone can learn to drive a car. A common myth is that you have to be young to use a computer, and it simply isn't true. I personally know an 80 year old man who loves his computer. The more you use one, the better you get at it, like any skill.
Alex Hibberd, United States
I'm rather more scared of people than I am of computers. Technophobes probably ought to check out Macs - the closest thing to cuddly that can be achieved by a computer!
It's a small wonder people are "afraid" of computers and the net - the amount of inaccurate and ill-informed scaremongering in the media at the moment is itself terrifying. I don't blame anyone for perhaps thinking the internet is some evil entity that will steal your children away from you, as this is all the rubbish that Joe Public is exposed to! Do we want to perpetuate the idea of an internet that is invaluable for education, communication and perhaps liberation, or the idea that it's a playground for all the evil people in the world? Unfortunately, only one of those sells papers, so I have little faith in this problem ending soon.
Daniel Slatford, Wakefield, UK
As a technician I try to explain to customers, friends and family what I am doing in terms I think help them understand best. When I explain technical subjects to people who are confused I try and relate it to something they understand best. A career driver will perhaps understand the concept of an Operating System better when related to the functions of a car, for example. Too many technical people do not try hard enough to help others. We must remember that we are not above everyone just because we can work a computer and they perhaps cannot.
James Snook, UK
I am scared of computers in the same way I am scared of cars being driven by people who haven't passed their test. Too many people have broadband, powerful PCs and still don't have a clue about firewalls, virus protection, the importance of patching etc.
As an IT systems officer I am constantly amazed by some people's negative attitude to computers. We are almost at a stage where you will be unable to work without at least a basic knowledge of PCs. Like it or not, computers are everywhere and those who choose to stick their heads in the sand and are unwilling to learn are only harming themselves.
C Cook, UK
At uni I was scared of PCs, I hand wrote all my projects even when advised not to! Amazingly I am now an IT project leader!
Alison, Surrey, England
Too right. I've been working with them for over 20 years now and still can't get them to work properly. However, if they ever did - I guess I'd be out of a job!
I am a technophile, but know plenty of technophobes. The biggest problem is the number of people who know a little and like to show off how much they know, which leaves other people feeling scared and inadequate, working in much the same way as car salespeople do.
Ted P, England
Computers and the internet hold no fear for me; quite the opposite. I have no problems with the latest survey, there are too many idiots on the net as it is.
Darren Robinson, UK
I am scared of people who are obviously scared of computers. Whenever there is a public discussion about computers or the internet, ignorant politicians or journalists, who have obviously no clue whatsoever what they are talking about, come out with the most hilarious suggestions on, for example, how to control the internet, viruses or technology in general.
Timo Esser, UK
I just don't understand computers. They are inherently complicated and difficult to use. There are too many acronyms and terms that make no sense and are totally impenetrable for the uneducated. Security is the most worrying concept. I don't understand viruses and I worry about my anonymity and privacy.
Andrei S, Cambridge, UK
I have been working with computers for over 20 years and have got the hang of them. However they can be a complete pain when they decide not to boot up or start in safe mode for absolutely no reason at all and generally play up. Even though I'm experienced it has taken me days to track down a problem, so goodness knows how a new user manages. In summary they are great - but user friendly they are not.
Arthur Edards, UK
But surely people who are that scared of computers wouldn't want to complete the online Have Your Say form?
So if only 13% of us are happy using MP3s how can the music industry blame computer users and the internet for their low sales figures?
George Palmer, UK