In the technology world, moms are like Joe the Plumber — the average person who doesn’t quite understand complicated technology, but whose approval and use are seen as signs of widespread acceptance. But what is it about pushing out a baby (or adopting one) that transforms a […]

In the technology world, moms are like Joe the Plumber — the average person who doesn’t quite understand complicated technology, but whose approval and use are seen as signs of widespread acceptance. But what is it about pushing out a baby (or adopting one) that transforms a woman from a rational, possibly tech-savvy individual to someone who can barely navigate a web site or key in a text message?

When Mom takes up a technology, be it Twitter (check the story, not the headline), social networking, texting or even (sorry Om) wireless network cards, the inference is that the technology has moved not just out of the early adopter crowd, but into the realm of everyone. Judging by the flurry of headlines that generally follow the “My mom is on ___” stories, after Mom joins it’s time to make sure the service is simple. How simple? So simple Mom can use it!

Instead of indulging in what I’m sure would be dubbed a hormonal rage, let’s unpack the stereotype behind this particular cliché and come up with something new. For the assumption that technology is too complex for moms (but not dads) is a lazy gender stereotype, but sadly, an effective one: It discourages girls and women from taking up technology. And given the need for smart people in technology, discouraging half the population seems pretty short-sighted.

Plus, while “mom adoption” may make for a universal headline because everyone has one, basically all moms have in common is that they’re female — after all, moms can range in age from teens to centenarians (once you’re a mom, it’s not like you can give it up); education, income, location, career, etc. are all variable as well. Which brings us back to that jerkish assumption that women are bad at tech. So can we just assume that, like men, some women are into tech and some aren’t, and perhaps go pick on someone who genuinely doesn’t understand it? Like maybe Twitter’s so simple, even members of Congress are using it?

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  1. Stereotypes and even generalizations are risky, but my observation is that older women tend to be more receptive to novel ideas than older men. As always there are more differences between individuals than groups, but if I had to come up with a stereotypical late adopter, it would be the grand dad.

  2. According to a recent report from Razorfish and CafeMom (http://digitalmom.razorfish.com/publication/?m=4248&l=1), there are more than 32 million moms actively leveraging leverage newer communications platforms like social networks, SMS, mobile browsing and Twitter. And to date, we’ve found moms to be among our most passionate and engaged users (http://springpadit.com) – referring to us as a digital mom toolkit that they can customize to meet their needs.

  3. I think you mean “Grandma test” ( Internal slang in software development to gauge intuitiveness of GUI ) but if you think about, why are we concerned with being politically correct ( non gender bias ) when speaking so disparagingly about someone’s lack of skills?

    I try to be non-gender bias and say “dinosaur” to refer to technology fearing simpletons, since they can be any age or gender…even executives of technology companies.

    1. Can’t help but picture a Geico commercial with a pissed-off dinosaur!

  4. Let’s Stop Confusing Moms With Technology-Fearing Simpletons – Local Tech Experts Friday, April 10, 2009

    [...] here:  Let’s Stop Confusing Moms With Technology-Fearing Simpletons :confusing-moms, facebook, News, popular, Technology, web, webworkerdaily, writer No comments [...]

  5. Well, all I can say to that is my mom is now sending e-mail daily and my dad still won’t touch a computer.

  6. Depends what perspective your definition of Mom comes from. Do you mean my mom, a woman who was alive during World War II, or do you mean the mother of my child, the woman I’m married to? My mom is no dummy, but my wife is definitely more technically savvy.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Someguy Friday, April 10, 2009

      And likely part of the reason your mom is not as technically savvy is because she was part of a generation that was told to let men handle technical and mechanical things. Your wife may be technically more savvy, but the underlying assumption that women aren’t great at mechanical and technical things is still alive. It’s getting better, but stories about “tech so simple your mom can do it,” don’t help drive those stereotypes away.

      1. Generalizing about her generation, maybe that is true. However, I wouldn’t make that argument in front of her. From a computing technology basis, she is at a disadvantage. She was in her late 40s, maybe even 50 when I taught her how to use a mouse. The technology wasn’t widespread until then; building those new neural pathways at 50 is a bit slower than say myself as a teenager or my child as a toddler. She holds three degrees, and even though she is old enough to be retired, is learning a new medical specialty to practice in her coming psuedo-retirement.

        Maybe I should generalize and say journalists who generalize are the source of this problem? But then I’d be just as guilty.

    2. Someguy

      My mother falls in between those two categories. In a year or so she got a Macbook, she has become pretty savvy about everything including FLickr and what not. Only if to keep track of her son and send emails and photos. Stacey is right — people just assume certain things about a gender and that’s it.

  7. Drew Olanoff Friday, April 10, 2009

    As someone who tells plenty of stories about my mom’s adoption of the web, the key is that I’m talking about “My Mom”. So yeah, if someone is generalizing “Mom’s”, that kind of sucks and makes an unfair generalization…but don’t discount Mom stories when they apply.

    My mom is definitely not a technologist, used to be afraid of computers, and while I now live on the west coast, we’ve been able to bridge a communication gap using Twitter and technology like it.

    You can follow her on twitter @sw33ti3

  8. Makes me so angry that moms are still lumped together as a technophobic monolith. I’m a mom and I am the bleeding edge geek of my social peers; I’ve worked and consulted in IT. While I can see how some women my age too easily wear the label “technophobe”, it’s generally because the technology they’ve tried has been too frustrating and too time consuming to fit their demanding multi-tasking lives, not because they aren’t savvy enough to use it.

    Having consulted for mega software companies, I can tell you that their predominantly male management don’t ask much about customer experience when assessing competitive intel; they only worry about the numbers. Which may explain why they are struggling with their business models these days as well as adoption by women. If a company takes for granted, ignores, discounts or blows off a potential constituency which is more than 50% of the total potential customer base, they deserve what they get.

  9. DailyWireless » Blog Archive » Friday Links: Palm Pre, Wi-Fi on the Storm Friday, April 10, 2009

    [...] After at least a half-dozen mom-centered pitches from PR people that make it sound like anyone with kids must be a luddite, I am tired of moms being referred as if they are the simple Joe’s of the internet. So is Gigaom. [...]

  10. Excellent. We’re evolving from a modernist, colonialist culture to one that is much more respecting of everyday people. In a colonial culture, it’s necessary that the masses need the powerful to teach them and show them the way, and in many ways, this has also existed in our homes. As the bottom of the culture becomes more empowered, this is a huge source of conflict with the status quo. The second Gutenberg moment we’re experiencing today will remove the simpleton concept necessary in the colonialist culture. I only wish I could be alive to see it.

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