If you’re part of the 15 percent, it’s time to break out

Does it surprise you that 85 percent of Americans use the Internet?

That’s what the Pew Research Center found in its Internet and American Life Project (pewinternet.org).

Or, is it the opposite side of the equation that astonishes you? 

Fifteen percent of us—some 38 million people—know that instantaneous communication with almost anyone anywhere is possible, but shrug, “No, thanks.”

Who are these nitwits? 

Of course, there is more to the story. 

The Pew study also found that about one-third of non-users say that they don’t have access to digital services because they experience emotional, cognitive or physical barriers to using technology.

Often, the physical barrier is something that could be called “Shaky Mice Syndrome – the inability to use a mouse pointing device to operate a computer because of hand tremors.

Involuntary hand movements can be caused my an injury, an illness such as Parkinson’s Disease, by an inherited condition, or by aging. 

Shaking rooted in familial tendencies or aging – which are typically less severe than tremors caused by injury or illness -- are referred to as essential tremors, or ET.

Often a person appears to have full control over the use of his or her hands until a specific task is performed. The degree of shaking is unpredictable.

Hand tremors don’t have to be severe to make it very difficult to operate a mouse-driven computer. Tremor can cause unintended mouse button clicks. At the same time, double-clicking to select something on the screen is extremely difficult, although click + enter can be a suitable work-around. 

Tremors also challenge users of laptop computers with track pads, and small mobile devices with touchscreens. A stylus – a computer accessory that looks like a pencil with a plastic bubble in the place of the eraser that feels like a fingertip – can help users select more precisely. 

Assistive filtering technologies have been developed to smooth out digital motions in the interface, so there’s no need for hand tremors to alone prevent people from going on line.

“We see a lot of shaky mice and it’s no big deal,” said Katie Dover-Taylor, a librarian in Westland, speaking Oct. 17 at the Michigan Library Association annual conference at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids. 

Taylor and Megan Hathaway, a librarian at Canton, led a session titled “Breaking Down Barriers: Empathy and Digital Literacy.” 

As more communication moves online, Taylor and Hathaway said showing people how to access information through technology has become an important part of their job at the reference desk.

Meeting the need begins with helping users meet their immediate information need, but everyone knows that things once learned don’t always stay learned. 

Nobody knows everything about using computers, anyway, the librarians said. Technology evolves so fast that everybody has to get comfy learning on the fly.

There are free online options for learning. Check out GCFLearnFree.org, DigitalLearn.org. and LearningExpress Library, a database on many library websites.

Given that using technology is no longer really optional, reticent computer users need to adopt a growth mindset. Embrace the challenge. Persist in the face of setbacks. Accept criticism. Find inspiration in the successes of others.

Librarians, and others “the 15 percent” ask for help can aid the cause by commiserating (no problem since we were all newbies at one time), then becoming a technology cheerleader.

“We’re not experts, and it is O.K. if you’re not an expert,” Hathaway said. “It's O.K. if neither of us ever becomes an expert.

“Whether or not they have usability challenges,” Hathaway added, “just encourage people to play with the technology because exploring is fun. After all, they can’t break it.” 

Well, maybe they can break it if they throw it, she acknowledged.

But go ahead. Give it a try.