Why new tech can be hard to learn (and what to do about it)

I got very cross with Canva the other day. I have the paid version, which has all sorts of new AI tools, and in a fit of laziness, I convinced myself that I could use these AI tools to do a new design for my CV.

I had already asked ChatGPT to shorten said CV to one page, and I had edited the shortened version to my satisfaction. What I wanted, at the end of a long day, was for Canva to take the text and input it into a template and make it look pretty.

Long story short: I was simply not able to make that happen (probably because it just doesn’t work like that).

In the process of getting very irritated and anxious, I did some Googling and established that there was a place, represented by an icon, where I could upload a picture and then get Canva’s Magic Design to generate some templates based on that picture. But there were several moments when, no matter how hard I looked, I just could not find that icon.

I went away for a bit, to check my email, and came back to Canva – and there was the icon, right where it was supposed to be.

This is something that I have seen over and over again as an adult trainer and as one of the designated “tech people” among my family and friends. People want to do something on a screen, and just… can’t… see something that is right in front of them.

What’s going on?

My general supposition has always been that people are overwhelmed or anxious and that that makes them less able to deal with whatever new thing they are confronting.

Turns out there’s a physiological response as well. I asked ChatGPT what bodily effects the fight-or-flight response generates, and it brought up the concept of tunnel vision. My heavily edited summary of ChatGPT’s pedantic prose gives us this nugget: When someone feels threatened, the sympathetic nervous system triggers physiological changes “aimed at preparing the body to either confront or flee from the danger”. One of these responses is the narrowing of visual focus, “where peripheral vision is reduced, and the focus is concentrated on the central field of vision”.

(I always ask GhatGPT to cite its sources – they are given in full at the end of the post. Read my new policy on how I use artificial intelligence.).

Aha – tunnel vision. That’s what was happening in my fight with Canva.

Why does tech make us anxious?

It turns out there are a bunch of reasons why we get anxious when hunched over a screen. A lot of the academic papers on this are focused on the teacher-student relationship (where older teachers are working with people born after the advent of the Internet – and often being made to adopt new tech by the institutions they work for). Faced with new and unfamiliar technology, people might be feeling some or all of these things:

·        pressure to perform

·        overwhelmed by the complexity of the tool

·        fear of failure

·        fear of making mistakes that might cost money, or that they might “break something”

·        concern about not being as fast or as adept as other people

·        in the workplace, the mandatory adoption of new tools, along with poor training, is a sure way to spark anxiety

(Some of these ideas were sourced, but rewritten, from ChatGPT – sources listed below)

 For older people, there are added issues:

·        Fear of being seen to be old and out of touch

·        Vision problems

·        Hearing problems

·        Decreased dexterity

·        Age-related changes in the brain

·        Fear of being scammed, or having privacy compromised

·        Not wanting to ask younger people for help, or fear of making mistakes

How to make it better

Based on years of this kind of work, my advice:

In the moment of stress, take a deep breath. Walk away and make a cup of tea. Look at the goddam screen again (really look) and you’ll probably see something you missed before.

Try to see patterns. Most apps (or computer programs, to use an outdated term) use the same “navigation” patterns. There’ll almost always be a hamburger menu (≡) or a kebab menu (፧) in the top right-hand corner (less often on the left). If you feel lost, look for those and click them or press them – the resulting menu will help you find your way around the site. (Hamburger and kebab are the actual technical terms, people.)

Use the back button – on your browser, or on your phone, if you find yourself somewhere unfamiliar, go back to where you were before.

Adopt a learning mindset – you have been learning new things all your life – this is no different!

Above all, know that you can’t break your computer or your phone (or the Internet). If all else fails, reboot your phone, or shut down your computer. Go do something else for a while. All will be well.


How to learn new things | Safe Hands

I’m not old, I’m a perennial | Safe Hands

Trainers – how to tell the good from the bad | Safe Hands

Main picture: Taken by Jeshoots

How to reach me 

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. 

I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here.  


  • Cannon, W. B. (1929). Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear and rage. Appleton.
  • Easterbrook, J. A. (1959). The effect of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behavior. Psychological Review, 66(3), 183–201.
  • Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2005). Cardiovascular stress responses and their modulation by social support and relaxation therapies. In A. Steptoe (Ed.), Handbook of Behavioral Medicine (pp. 221-233). Guilford Press.
  • Al-Fudail, M., & Mellar, H. (2008). Investigating teacher stress when using technology. Computers & Education, 51(3), 1103-1110.
  • Compeau, D. R., & Higgins, C. A. (1995). Computer self-efficacy: Development of a measure and initial test. MIS Quarterly, 19(2), 189-211.
  • Tarafdar, M., Tu, Q., Ragu-Nathan, B. S., & Ragu-Nathan, T. S. (2007). The impact of technostress on role stress and productivity. Journal of Management Information Systems, 24(1), 301-328.

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