TECH types: A California psychologist says we all fit into one of 10 categories, based on our ways with gadgets

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If you work in an office, the person next to you just might be an Impostor. Or perhaps a Challenger is in the adjacent cubicle, and you just don't know it yet. Most likely, you work with at least one Resister - but could that be dangerous to your well-being?

The digital age has spawned a new lingo, a new work environment and, not surprisingly, a new breed of personality types. But what that means to society in the long run remains to be seen. "Clearly, there are ways these [personality] types exist away from technology," says Dr. Francine Toder, a psychologist and executive coach in Palo Alto, Calif. "For example, someone with addictive traits will apply that in whatever milieu they are placed in. Technology just gives them another chance to use and abuse it."

The professor emeritus of Psychological Counseling Services at California State University has watched for more than a decade as these techno-personality traits have evolved from isolated quirks into universal reactions. From her office in the Silicon Valley, she has witnessed the emerging characteristics become first a regional and then an international pattern. "I started working with clients [on this subject] about 10 years ago, hearing about techno dummies and people who are fearful of technology," Dr. Toder says.

"Being in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the awareness of those types of things was very high. Now there's such a proliferation of technology that you see it everywhere. Everything is chip-driven."

That leaves a lot of territory for Technophobes, Resisters and other technology-avoidance types to steer clear of. At the other end of the scale are Addicts and Drivers, who can't get enough of the technological stuff. These techno-personalities have become so prominent in the digital age that Dr. Toder works both with individuals and corporations on the issues that they bring with them.

She also is using her research to write a book about the 10 most common personality types and how each type deals with technology. Although the technology may be the same, it is the individual approach to it that makes the difference - both in the workplace and in our personal lives. "One person's response to technology might be to push toward it," Dr. Toder says. "Another's might be to run away from it. Yet another might think, 'The government is trying to get us.' " Dr. Toder says the type of personality she sees most is the Resister, someone who will go to great lengths to avoid using high-tech devices. "When you meet someone who fits this profile, you know who they are by the energy it takes to convince them to try something new," says Dr. Toder. "Resisters aren't afraid of technology; they dislike newness and prefer the simplicity of a technology-free life."

When Resisters take it to the next level, they may become Challengers - people who don't just dislike technology, but have anger, hostility and resentment toward it. Dr. Toder says they may use technology in a destructive or harmful manner, such as the Unabomber or those who plant computer viruses. "We see that a lot these days, with computer hackers and hijackers. They're trying to show that they don't have to go along with the rules," she says. "When you have a disgruntled employee who feels that way, they often resort to sabotage."

Those who are afraid of technology are called Technophobes, and they range from being mildly uncomfortable with the idea of a digital world to being paralyzed with fear. They may go to great lengths to avoid technology, a trait that can also be seen in the Procrastinator - but for different reasons.

The Procrastinator feels competent in using technology but uses it for less relevant tasks and doesn't explore its full potential. On the flip side of those who fear or resist technology are people who can't get enough of it. The introverted Addict will eat, breathe and sleep technology, sometimes ignoring other facets of life to stay connected.

In a similar vein, the extroverted Driver takes it to the next level, using the addiction to technology as a way to outpace others, either in the business world or among friends. Drivers gain satisfaction by staying on the cutting edge, which earns them the admiration and appreciation of those around them. "You see the Player a lot, which is similar to the Addict but is different in that he spends all his time gaming on the computer," Dr. Toder says. "They spend an inordinate amount of time playing games, surfing the Web, engaging in e-mail conversations. They are only interested in technology as a way to advance their play." Other prominent personality types are the Impostors, who feel inept in their work and spend a lot of time on the computer trying to create the illusion of competence, and Dreamers, who have unrealistic expectations of what technology can accomplish and are disappointed when reality falls short.

Dr. Toder says just about every office has Impostors, although they're often difficult to identify because they work so hard at concealing their lack of knowledge.

As telecommuting has become a way of life, Dr. Toder has seen more Hermits surfacing. "They avoid face-to-face contact with others and prefer to communicate through e-mail," she says. "Oftentimes, it's because they don't have good people skills and they feel uncomfortable with others." That doesn't mean everyone who chooses to stay home and work with their computer is anti-social; Dr. Toder points out there is a difference between telecommuting because it makes sense and telecommuting because it keeps people at arms' length. "You can see these traits in people you know, but it only becomes a problem when it reaches the extreme," she says. "We can look at these definitions and chuckle when we see ourselves in them.

What this is about is people who have gone over the edge and finding a way to modify that behavior." Milder exhibitions of these personality traits are usually harmless, she says; it's only when they're taken to great lengths that they may become a concern to employers, family and friends. Dr. Toder expects the coming years to include a focus on how to manage these personality types. "Most people understand there's some kind of balance between technology and the real world. But you have some people who get into it and can't pull back," she says. "It's a matter of recognizing when it gets too extreme and [then] doing something about it."

- Paula Felps is a freelance writer.


The Impostor

Plays around on computers hoping that their lack of knowledge goes undetected

The Challenger

Angered by technology and frightened that it may be used against him or her

The Resister

Prefers the simplicity of a tech-free existence

The Technophobe

Paranoid about technology

The Procrastinator

Uses technology for the easiest tasks and never goes for the max

The Addict

Eats, sleeps and breathes technology

The Driver

Uses tech skills to outpace everyone

The Player

A grown-up gamer who lives to play

The Dreamer

Harbors unrealistic expectations for technology

The Hermit

Prefers electronic communication in lieu of face-to-face contact