Let's Stop Confusing Moms With Technology-Fearing Simpletons

24 Comments

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?

24 Comments

Isabelle Ayel

Love this post and all the comments.
I’m totally confident, as a techie-geek mom and grandma, nowadays moms are using and will use more and more what men name new tech.
Moms are using tech in their routine day life: wash-machine, aspirator, hoven, micro-onde…are no more straightaway tools, see the howto-documentation!
Working moms need tech to manage their life in between office and house.

Now the fear for moms is not in techs but in children: too many questions about health, futur, education…lot of confusion in running a real family with more than one child!

free online virtual worlds

I don’t think the technology problem affects only moms. Everyone generally can get affected. The only reason why moms are affected is that they stay home for years and the most complicated thing they have to handle is probably the microwave oven.
They’re just less exposed to new techy gadgets so when u shove anything more confusing than the mirowave oven they panic because its suddenly too much for them to handle after so many years. Afterall, we have to admit technolocy has advance, and is still advancing at a pretty amazing rate. And the thing is, they'[re too busy with housework and children everyday to be concerned about whats with the latest technology. So the only solution to this is to INFLUENCE them consistently, and familiarise them with these stuff so they’ll have less phobia for it.

Paul

This stereotype is based on simple observation, it’s not a put down for women in general, and you can’t blame a stereotype label for discouraging women from being more interested in tech. I find it incredibly hard to believe the female half of the population is that much dumber than the male half so in my opinion it just comes down to the fact that women are mentally lazy, are not very logical and have no NEED to learn tech.

I know countless women who can hold an intelligent conversation but mention tech and they go blank, just can’t be bothered to make the effort to concentrate for long enough to understand the basics. Most are just lazy, it’s pathetic. How often do you have to dumb down the conversation at a dinner table because women are there?

“If it was easy everyone would be doing it” the old saying goes, and understanding tech isn’t always easy. Where men are EXPECTED to understand everything and most take that on as a competitive challenge, the brainless female stereotype actually lets helpless women off the hook. They aren’t EXPECTED to understand anything so use that, to what they think is their advantage, and take the lazy way out, someone else can always help them out, just claim to be having a “blonde moment’.

There is no reason females CAN’T understand tech, but it requires quite abit of effort and if your entire ambition in life is to punch out kids (i.e. be a Mom) as opposed to earn a living in a competitive technical field, why would you need to understand tech at all?

(BTW I wouldn’t classify using a PC/ATM or a phone as ‘tech’, they’re fool proof appliance these days. Perhaps fixing a PC that’s refusing to co-operate might be a better classification of smarts)

JustinSMV

I know there will always be stero-types and cliches but I think we are in a day-in-age where Mommy Bloggers and Mommy Techno Savvy Realtors are increasingly popular. Look at the Motrin Mommys that made headlines on Twitter, I don’t doubt for one second that Moms are not Techno Savvy..go moms! :-)

Roman Geyzer

I think what we erroneously link as a gender bias is really more of a generational/age/education issue. It’s “relatively” safe to say that it becomes harder with age to adapt your brain towards new kinds of technology. Now, if you’re in the tech industry and have been your whole life, its certainly a lot easier to adapt because you seek out the information and you find it fun. It’s easy to learn stuff when its fun for you. But for the rest of the world where technology is not your primary occupation, its a bit more challenging.

My mom is pretty pitiful at using her computer, but she does manage to surf the web, receive emails (I’ve never actually gotten an email from her!), videoconference, etc. She can’t transfer the files from her SD card to her My Pictures folder despite many hours of training (It once took me 51 minutes to walk her through it over the phone!). But the important thing (god love her!) is she tries and every couple of months I’m surprised to learn she’s able to do something new. I attribute the steep learning curve to age, education and occupation…NOT gender!

Gadget Sleuth

My older dad was the opposite…he tried to use fancy computer lingo, but he didn’t always know what he was talking about. He used computers of some sort regularly for his job, so he didn’t have a choice really.

Dan Thornton

Didn’t Clay Shirky already make the point that tech is likely to succeed when moms adopt it because they don’t have the time to waste on anything which doesn’t benefit them straight away, rather than the perception that in some way it must be idiot proof?

As a relatively new father, I’ve had the same experience – applications I might have made time for a year ago now get a shorter amount of time to prove valuable, or they get deleted/ignored.

It’s a lazy way of claiming mainstream adoption – then again I’ve spoken with plenty of new parents of both sexes who readily admit that their brains struggled to cope with a new child, whether it’s using the web or standing in a supermarket trying to remember why on earth you’re there (When in doubt, buy nappies and baby food just in case!)

The argument isn’t about using ‘so simple a mom can do it’, it’s about every generalisation of all Generation Y as digital natives who collaborate and use P2P for music, or all old people as technology-challenged, all males as tech geeks or DIY experts, etc, etc…

Roman Geyzer

You make a good point. I have three kids and my desire to muck about with every new site/tech/device/platform just isn’t what it was before I had kids. I’m sure some 19 y/o CS majors might think I’m a dinosaur because I’m not up on certain things but then again, there are actually more important things in the world than Twitter and Facebook – like reading to my kids at night.

I, for one, can’t wait for my kids to exceed my understanding of technology. It would be great to have someone other than me to be the go-to person every time my Vista Media Center goes haywire!

Terry Heaton

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.

Rayne

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.

Drew Olanoff

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

Someguy

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.

Stacey Higginbotham

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.

Someguy

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.

Om Malik

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.

Tyson

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.

Todd

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.

Roman Geyzer

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

rich

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.

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