Tech-no-phobes

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. I moved to my current company a year ago from its biggest rival, only to find my new company president afraid to deploy the technology solutions we need to compete with my former employer. I’ve pushed gently for technology upgrades, but he won’t budge because he fears spies might intercept our electronic communications and data files. As a result, we continue to place our orders over the telephone, communicate via fax and mail, make paper copies of everything, and have enormous file rooms of paper records. Can you tell me how to convince him that today’s technology is safe?

A. Your question is surprisingly common. The advantages of technologies may seem obvious to you and me, but not everyone agrees. Nineteenth century Luddites famously protested against the use of the spinning frames and power looms that fueled the Industrial Revolution, arguing that such advanced machinery would eliminate the need for laborers. Every new technology since has been the target of similar naysayers, and these pessimists seldom change their minds, perhaps because their stance has at least some merit. Connecting one’s computer to the internet, enabling the global positioning system (GPS) in one’s phone, and embracing the cloud do indeed have risks. It is really more of a question of whether the benefits outweigh the risks, and in their minds, they don’t. Unfortunately, my experience has been that my reasoning won’t change their minds, just as their reasoning won’t change mine.

You might argue that everything in life has risks. For example, thousands die annually from automobile, plane, and train crashes; aspirin overdoses; and electrical shock. Some people won’t fly on airplanes, ski down a slope, eat sushi, ride roller coasters, travel abroad, board a cruise ship, take flu shots, ride a motorcycle, go kayaking, ride a horse, go snorkeling, go ziplining, go camping, or make bonfires—all because they perceive these activities as too risky. Many would rather stay home and sit on the sofa. (The irony is that, with heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States, sitting on the sofa may be the most dangerous of all the aforementioned activities.)

Would your boss favor eliminating these risky things? A reasoned discussion along these lines might challenge his point of view; if not, then perhaps your previous job is still available.

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2013, 2010, and 2007 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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