When the personal computer first became ubiquitous in the 1980s, as Adrienne LaFrance wrote in The Atlantic earlier this year, some people found it so terrifying that the term “computerphobia” was coined.
“In the early days of the telephone, people wondered if the machines might be used to communicate with the dead. Today, it is the smartphone that has people jittery,” she wrote. “Humans often converge around massive technological shifts—around any change, really—with a flurry of anxieties.”
To see those anxieties quantified, take a look at the top five scariest items in the Survey of American Fears, released earlier this week by researchers at Chapman University. Three of them—cyberterrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, and government tracking of personal information—were technology-related.
For the survey, a random sample of around 1,500 adults ranked their fears of 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). The fears were divided into 10 different categories: crime, personal anxieties (like clowns or public speaking), judgment of others, environment, daily life (like romantic rejection or talking to strangers), technology, natural disasters, personal future, man-made disasters, and government—and when the study authors averaged out the fear scores across all the different categories, technology came in second place, right behind natural disasters.