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Metathesiophobes Beware (by Paul W. Smith)

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

I was born and raised in Southern California and by the time my wife and I had settled our young family in Santa Barbara (aka Paradise), I swore we would never leave. Nine years later we moved to Niwot, Colorado (aka God’s Country). The scripted answer to “Why?” centered on a job offer that was too good to pass up, but there was also an element of adventure to a fresh start in another state. We certainly felt some trepidation over such a major change, but I still point to the decision as proof that I am not a Tropophobe.

Tropophobia – the fear of moving – is often associated with the more general fear of change known as Metathesiophobia. Unfortunately change is unavoidable. Ben Franklin once said, “When you are finished changing, you are finished.” There are scores of seminars and therapy sessions devoted to change. In a workshop on coping with change at a former employer, I learned that there are three types of people in our ever-changing world – those who make things happen, those who wait to see what happens, and those who wonder what happened. The best way to conquer change, the speaker said, is to be that first guy.

Evolution has hard-wired us to prefer the same old way over the scary new way in nearly everything. In moderation, this inclination protects us and provides a reassuring feeling of mastery over our environment. Out of control, Metathesiophobia paralyzes us with emotional distress and destroys our personal and professional lives. The solution is to embrace change and, if you can’t be the change-maker, at least try to anticipate and adapt quickly.

Successfully adapting begins with the recognition that change is brewing. In my experience, changes in the workplace are usually preceded with managers closing their office doors, employees coming in late and taking long lunches, and everyone acting more self-conscious in meetings. Productivity takes a nosedive in a gossipy din. Metathesiophobia spreads like the plague. To an objective observer, the storyline is simple – storming, norming and performing – until a new set of clouds appears on the horizon.

Changes that we experience and respond to have a profound effect on how we feel about our work, our relationships, and our personal reality. Even if we aren’t that first guy, we gain confidence from our ability to adjust and perform. But what about that powerful, pervasive change agent that is quietly reshaping our thoughts and emotions – what about Technology?

Recognizing that cell phones - enablers of voice, text and social media - have become woven into the fabric of our personal lives, researchers at the Cass Business School of London set out to learn more about how these devices change us. While the term “range anxiety” is most often associated with electric vehicles, their study showed that people consistently fret about their phone’s battery life and their proximity to a power source. Many choose their daily destinations based in part on access to an outlet. The degree to which we feel positive and in control of our lives is connected to the level of our battery gauge.

While a full battery makes us feel better about ourselves, it also opens the gates for a flood of personalized distractions. You can try fighting back with an ad-blocker, but many sites will refuse to engage further until you turn it off.

Ohio State Psychology Professor Julie Golomb, who specializes in cognitive and brain sciences, has found that visual distractions, like pop-ups, alerts and updates, can alter our perception of an event without our awareness. Her experiments have shown that brief visual detours not only distort our memory of what we were doing, they also tend to strengthen our resolve that our flawed recollections are accurate.

Also from Ohio State, researcher and marketing expert Rebecca Reczek has gathered data that reveal another pernicious trend. Most of us are aware that online marketers collect our personal data and target their ads toward our calculated interests. Not only do these have an effect on our mood and memory, but Professor Reczek says that they also subtly change our perceptions about ourselves to be more in line with the ads. The Internet may be a tool that we use, but it is also a new environment that is subtly molding our sense of self.

Of course the change isn’t all bad. I once searched protein supplements for an article I was writing, only to be inundated with ads for health foods, supplements, gym equipment and fitness wear. All it took was that one simple Google search and suddenly I am in the best shape of my life.

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40

years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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