Fear of long words

Fredd Culbertson's Internet site carries a disclaimer: "I am not an expert on phobias. I just have the list." And what a list it is, containing no fewer than 510 of the irrational fears that are giving the collywobbles to neurotics around the world.

You'll find everything from acarophobia (fear of itching) to zemmiphobia (fear of the great mole rat). Teachers who are plagued by didaskaleinophobia (fear of school) will be heartened to discover that their affliction is positively rational compared with some people's. There are, for instance, victims of arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth), allodoxaphobia (fear of opinions) and a few who fear nothing but fear itself - the phobophobics who live in permanent dread of developing a phobia.

High-tech and high anxiety have always gone hand in hand and it's only natural that IT features in the list. It's true that there isn't, as yet, any condition that relates specifically to the Internet - unless it's macrophobia (fear of long waits) - but you will find logizomechanophobia (fear of computers) and, inevitably, technophobia, a term which has entered common usage.

There is no doubt that many people really are terrified of new technology. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, has been studying the problem for years. He discovered that some students who didn't like using computers showed all the classic symptoms of acute mental distress - sweaty palms, increased heart-rate, dizziness and suchlike. Others, although outwardly calm, felt "hopeless, helpless and ignorant when interacting with the computer". We all know people like this, and generally try to jolly them along on the assumption that the more time they spend at the keyboard, the more relaxed they will become.

But Professor Rosen found that this approach can be counter productive. Technophobics who were obliged to use IT in their studies "appeared to develop a more negative attitude towards computers and greater physiological arousal at the terminal".

He does have a "cure", but, as with any other phobia, it involves taking the condition seriously and offering sufferers the help they need to learn to overcome the problem. There's a fat chance of teachers in British schools ever being shown that kind of consideration. But, of course, many of the teachers who assiduously avoid computers aren't really technophobic. They are more likely to be suffering from a debilitating cocktail of metathesiophobia, catagelophobia, ereuthrophobia, lyssophobia and suriphobia (fears, respectively of change, ridicule, blushing, madness - and mice).

Some teachers are too lazy or too busy to be bothered. And quite a few think that they are old enough not to have to learn new tricks - by the time that IT makes its seismic impact on education, they will be safely retired.

Student teachers, however, have no alternative but to learn to love the new technology. For instance, Ruth McDonald, who is in the final year of a BEd course at John Moores University in Liverpool, is well aware of the difficulties of having to acquire IT skills while at the same time being obliged to teach them to children. "I know the feeling of being shown up by an 11-year-old. Although not pleasant, I laugh, learn and inwardly feel two inches tall," she says. "It's a lot to do with personality. If you are open to change and willing to make a fool of yourself then you'll tend to be more open to the possibilities of IT."

But Ruth wants to know what practising teachers think. She is preparing a dissertation on technophobia and would be more than grateful if TES readers could send her their views or complete her questionnaire. And if you are a victim of graphophobia (fear of handwriting), you could, of course, always resort to e-mail.

Ruth McDonald, Design Technology Unit, St Nicholas Centre, Great Orford Street, Liverpool L3 e-mail: ECSRMCDO@livjm.ac.uk

The phobia list: http:www.sonic.netfreddphobia1.html


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