Will tech always be a boys 'n' toys club?

Controversy swirls around whether tech excludes both women and those of an advanced age. If true, will this always be the case? Or will the tech world become a little more inclusive?

I hear wailing, screeching, and the sound of a Zimmer frame scratching on an old wooden floor.

I hear the downhearted and downtrodden banging hard on the door of the inner temple, begging to be invited inside. I hear the dark accusations of sexism, ageism and even, it seems, dumb-and-dumberism echoing around the halls of the Web.

Yes, it is time to examine tech's navel and wonder why it is that navel is smooth, male, and full of Special K and croissant crumbs.

You see, this week, important sectors of society have been expressing their pain at being shut out from the start-uppy, uppity world of tech.

First, there was Vivek Wadhwa, a University of California at Berkeley academic, who was so pained and appalled that he produced both words and charts to offer the view that older, more experienced engineers are being tossed onto Silicon Valley's large (but, no doubt, green) scrapheap in favor of the young, the cheap and the unwashed.

It seems that older engineers have families, carpal tunnel, and varicose veins, all attributes that seem a little too cumbersome for our thrusting, dynamic tech companies that value dynamism and lissomness above all else.

Before one could even organize a chauffeur to take us to the wake of tech's over-40s, along came members of the female population, young and old.

The Wall Street Journal offered something of a lament that start-ups in tech seemed to suffer from a dearth of female tech entrepreneurs. A barb contained within it then inspired TechCrunch to suggest that this wasn't the fault of men.

CC Indy Slug/Flickr

Indeed, TechCrunch suggested, not enough women were interested in becoming entrepreneurs. The post then quoted Cyan Bannister, founder of Zivity, who reportedly suggested that women are rather more into nurturing and are rather less into silly things like risk.

Naturally, being male, when I see eggshells, I very much want to run through them as if they were a field of buttercups.

It is surely difficult to argue that tech companies are actually as open as the world they claim to adore and espouse. Somehow, the young, dominant male ethos, the one that worships at the altar of "Star Wars", World of Warcraft, Charles Darwin, and Bart Simpson often seems to shine through like an active cell phone on a cold, dark night.

So many tech businesses seem to be based on the idea of the left-brain as the source of all progress and the right brain as the repository of everything that is pink, fluffy, and yesterday.

When you hear that some folks at Google look forward to the day when the search function will be an implant in our brains and when young people will be free to change their identities in order to avoid their pasts , you wonder whether they've been reading too many books of the same genre.

Indeed, it often seems as if technology exists not to improve human life but to change it for the sake of a young boy's vast experiment. What happens when I remove the legs from this spider? Will it grow new ones? Or will it just crawl around till it dies of starvation?

Perhaps one of the more cogent criticisms of why many of Google's products disappear into oblivion is that the company is only capable of making products that satisfy its own, mainly male, left-brained employees. Where their predilections happen to coincide with the outside world's (search), there are hosannas. Where their creations are merely bran for a large, left, male brain (Buzz, for example), they capture the imagination of very few.

There are those who might choose to wonder whether tech is really as interesting as it thinks it is. Just as there is a limit to the fascination level of your average nerd (three hours, I would suggest), so a business that bases itself in expanding the limits of rationality might just seem to some to be deeply dull.

It might also well be that the biggest problem with the over-40s and women succeeding in the world of tech is not that they don't have talent, nor that their left-brains are wildly under-developed. It just might be that there is one, large thing in common between men who have seen a little bit more of the world and women, whose emotional sophistication can be under-appreciated and under-utilized: they are both a little more, well, human.

And perhaps, just perhaps, it's that very humanity that gets in the way at many tech enterprises.

 

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